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"Raggedy Ann" reunion features look at rarely seen Richard Williams film

"Raggedy Ann" reunion features look at rarely seen Richard Williams film

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A few weeks back, Nathan Rose of MagicalMountain asked me to provide him with some fairly innocuous information (i.e. My favorite Disney theme park, my favorite resort, favorite film, favorite animated character, etc.). Which Nathan then planned on using to help promote his Magical Definition podcast that I regularly make contributions to.

I politely demurred. Mostly because I felt that no one would really give a rat's ass what my favorite Disney resort was. But also because I thought that Disneyana fans might be a bit confused once they learned who my favorite animated character was. Which is ... The Camel with the Wrinkled Knees from Bobbs-Merrill's 1977 release, "Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure."


 Copyright 1977 Bobbs-Merrill

If that title is unfamiliar to you ... Well, there's a good reason for that. It's been more than a decade since this Richard Williams film was last available for purchase. On VHS no less. And to my knowledge, because of some copyright-related problem, "Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure" has never officially been transferred over to DVD. And evidently this same copyright-related issue is currently preventing this 84-minute-long movie from being broadcast on television.

Which is a real shame. Because while this animated feature is far from perfect, its charms (Among them Joe Raposo's winning score and the stellar voicework by veteran Broadway character actors like Mason Adams, Paul Dooley and George S. Irving) far out-weigh its flaws.

But for animation fans, the real thrill of "Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure" is the talented team of artists who actually made this picture happen. Williams assembled a veritable Who's Who of the animation world. On this one feature, you had genuine Golden Age legends like Grim Natwick & Emery Hawkins, UPA-era stars like Corny Cole & Tissa David, plus a passel of talented up-and-comers like Eric Goldberg, Dan Haskett, Tom Sito and Michael Sporn.

And then -- of course -- there's the man who brought the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees to life: newly inducted Disney Legend Art Babbitt.


Disney Legend Art Babbitt pitches "Raggedy Ann & Andy" storyboards.
Copyright 1977 Bobbs-Merrill

Truth be told, Art originally wasn't supposed to do any animation on "Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure." Williams (Who had long be an admirer of Babbitt's work) initially hired this then-69-year-old artist just to teach a series of master classes. So that this newly assembled team would then be up for the task of producing a full length Disney-quality traditionally animated feature in just over a year's time.

But then -- as Richard realized the challenges involved with the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees (Which the folks at Bobbs-Merrill, the money behind this movie, believed would be this film's break-out character) -- Williams knew that he'd need an animation master. Which is when he then began trying to persuade Babbitt to come on board the project as a really-for-real animator.

Art initially was quite resistant to Richard's entreaties. As John Canemaker recounted in his excellent making-of book, "The Animated Raggedy Ann & Andy -- An Intimate Look at the Art of Animation: Its History, Techniques and Artists" (1977, Macmillan Publishing), Babbitt had a number of legitimate reasons that he should have turned down this assignment.

For starters, Art had been in an automobile accident in 1974. This car crash had kinked up Babbitt's spine. Which made it very difficult for him to sit at a drawing table for any long period of time and do animation.

Caricature of Art Babbit as the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees
Copyright 1977 Bobbs-Merrill

Then there was the fact that it been a decade or more since Art had done any significant drawing. As Babbit explained it to Canemaker:

"I hadn't devoted myself to animation in a good many years. I'd been concentrating on direction and fixing other animators' stuff. (So to be able) to sit down and handle an assignment by myself was a new experience. I suffered badly from stage fright, was very insecure, so I had to find myself again."

Art eventually managed to get out of his own way. Partially because he came up with such a unique way of handling the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees.

You see, what Babbitt decided was that -- rather than being one unified character ...

" ... the Camel is really three identities. There's a back end, which is pretty dumb, and there's a front end, which is a little bit smarter, not always more physically facile than the back end, but a little resentful of the back end's capabilities. Then there's the head. So there's really three separate elements that make up the Camel."

 
Copyright 1977 Bobbs-Merrill

But the real genuis touch here is that Art chose to animate the front half and the back half of the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees as if they were a pair of baggy pants comedians. You know? As if Laurel & Hardy were dressed up in an animal suit and were trying to work together to create the impression that they were a single animal.

The combination of Fred Stuthman's vocals, the mournful song that Joe Raposo wrote for the Camel ("Blue") plus Art Babbitt's animation all add to a pretty magical moment in this sweet little film. Which -- thanks to the wonders of YouTube -- you can view now by clicking on this link.


Copyright 1977 Bobbs-Merrill

Mind you, Art Babbitt's work with the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees isn't the only reason that you should check out "Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure." Emery Hawkins' animation of the Greedy -- this immense, endlessly undulating creature that's made up entirely of candy -- really has to be seen to be believed. Thanks to Joe Silver's hilarious voicework as well as Dan Haskett's clean-up of Hawkins' original roughs ... This sequence has been studied by animation students for nearly three decades now. It's often been aped ... But never equalled.

 
Copyright 1977 Bobbs-Merrill

There's also John Kimball (i.e. son of Disney Legend Ward Kimball)'s stunning work in the film's "Looney Land" sequence. Where Raggedy Ann, Andy and the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees go whizzing through a black-and-white world that lovingly recreates those surreal dreamscapes that Windsor McCay used to send Little Nemo careening through.

Mind you, given its tight production deadline, it wasn't all "Candy Hearts and Paper Flowers" working on "Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure." The grind of having to turn out drawing after drawing of cute little rag dollies can eventually get to even the most dedicated assistant animator. As the gag drawing below that Eric Goldberg did while working on this Richard Williams film illustrates.


Copyright 1997 Bobbs-Merrill

Now you may wonder why I've been going on and on about this animated feature that's not available on DVD. Ah, but there is method to my madness, folks.

You see, in honor of the 30th anniversary of this film's release, ASIFA-Hollywood will be screening a rare CinemaScope print of "Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure" this Saturday at the American Film Institute at 3 p.m. Not only that, but following this screening ... There'll actually be a "Raggedy Ann & Andy" reunion. As various members of this film's production team take part in a panel discussion and look back on what it was actually like to work on this Richard Williams film.

So if you're a West Coast based animation fan who'd like to see this flawed-but-fun feature up on the big screen, be sure and make your way to the Mark Goodson Auditorium this coming Saturday afternoon. That's at the American Film Institute at 2021 N. Western Boulevard in Hollywood, CA.


Copyright 1997 Bobbs-Merrill

FYI: This event is a benefit for the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive. Admission will be $15 for ASIFA members, $20 for non-members.

So if you'd looking to help out a good cause and/or want a fun way to chase away those pre-holiday blues, be sure and attend this rare screening of "Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure."

Your thoughts?

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  • I saw this when I was 6 (and did spot it on VHS and on tv a few times in the 90s, but as you say, not since then except the rare used video store).  I quite liked it at the time (given my age), but remember little else of it.

  • Jim, thanks for the YouTube links ... I vaguely remember when this film hit the theaters but never saw it.

    I loved the camel, his "Blue" song, and the way he's been animated. I can see why he's among your favorite characters ...

  • Jim, thanks for the memory!

    I wanted to hate this movie just because I was 7, my sister was into Raggedy Ann, and it wasn't about space or big monsters. I didn't admit it when I was a child, but I loved the movie and watched it over and over.

    We didn't see the theatrical release, but I probably watched it somewhere close to 20 times on our local "pay movie" channel. For us it was Hollywood Home Theater before HBO took over the market. Now I'm sorry that I can't find a copy of the movie for my daughter to watch.

    Chris

  • My father owned a children's shoe store in the 60's - 90's, and I remember the sales rep talking him into buying shoes tied in to this movie, stating it would be the next big children's film.  My little sister was 8 at the time, and we waited and waited to see it - but it was never released near Pontiac, MI.  The Raggedy Ann and Andy shoes sold eventually, but those Camel with the Wrinkled Knees shoes hung around for years - nobody knew who it was.  

    Thanks for the article, Jim - nice to know Dad wasn't (completely) scammed.  (Sorry, the CwtWK shoes were donated to charity decades ago.)

  • I.... actually think I have a copy of this lounging around in my basement.  I remember that my mother always tried to get me to like Raggedy Ann, and I resisted quite forcefully.  But... I do remember the Camel with the Wrinkly Knees being my favorite.  I'm definitely browsing through some boxes later. Thanks, Jim!

  • Wow, Jim. Talk about dragging up some old memories. I can definitely recall and almost sing "Blue" word for word. "How can you be .... happy, how can you be... smilin, how can you be anything...." but I digress. Now I know why I've never seen this classic on DVD, although as you say it was never a big success.

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