Thursday, January 17, 2013

DVD Review: The Point (Harry Nilsson / Ringo Starr)

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet

The Point: The Definitive Collector’s Edition
Directed and animated by Fred Wolf
MVD Visual
74 min, 1971 / 2012

The 1970s was a key point in cinema animation, with works by Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat, Wizards), Martin Rosen (Watership Down) and Ralph Lafoux (Fantastic Planet. At the same time, weekly television cartoons went from 24 frames per second to 18 (e.g., The Jackson 5ive, Nanny and the Professor).

Undeterred by the growing maturity of the medium, The Point, drawn by Fred Wolf, was bravely released into the world and shown on ABC television as the first animated “Move of the Week” in 1971. Using simple line drawings that looked an Alka-Seltzer commercial from the ‘60s (which had been drawn by RO Blechman), it went out to touch a wide-reaching audience for various reasons.

But first, this message: Narrating the story-within-a-story is Ringo Starr, as the dad who reads the story to his young son, who is more into watching television (“my shows”) than books (sound familiar?). Starr’s easily recognizable voice rambles along, up and down tones in a slight sing-song manner that he’s known for, which is, of course, endearing Note, however, the original airing on television used Dustin Hoffman’s voice, and Ringo was added for the video release years later The songs that accompany the story is by Starr’s cohort and real-life close friend, Harry Nilsson (d. 1994), known for the likes of “Without You” and “Everybody’s Talkin’”. One from the film, “Me and My Arrow,” even became a somewhat hit. Nilsson also wrote and pitched the story idea. And in typical post-Beatles music-related animation, there is a bit of a psychedelic feel to the colors and flow. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it derivative as much as influenced.

The story told is about a little boy, Oblio, and his dog Arrow, who live in a land where everything and everyone has a triangular shape, or a point (for people, it’s at the top of their heads, possibly inspiring the Coneheads. And yet, no one’s pointy-headed life has any point Yes, the double meaning is purposeful in the story, especially when Oblio is born with a round head (like us). Nearly everyone else in the story is also The Simpsons-ish orange (perhaps Snooki?), though occasionally to make a point, some are other colors, such as a crooked politician being purple. Yes, it is very Yellow Submarine in that way, with the meanie being a darker hue of blue.

Due to the machinations of said politico, inspired by his bully of a son who is Oblio’s school mate, Oblio and Arrow are cast away into the “Pointless Forest.” There he meets a serious of people or creatures, some having some kind of trinity about them. First there is a slimy character with three heads who consistently points out that all those who Oblio meets in the forest is pointless, to which he disagrees. Then there’s three obese women bouncing around like beachballs (reminding me more of a post-blueberry Violet Beauregarde). Among others, there is a fashion industry manufacturer tree waiting to bring out the next season’s line (“Careful! Leaves don’t on trees, y’know!”) and an obviously African-American Rock man (“Dig?”) that has a rear-view mirror touch of Semitic and Black-hep stereotyping, among many others.

Oblio is voiced by 10-year-old Mike Lookinland, who is better known to that generation as the youngest boy Brady, Bobby. Other voices include animation stalwarts Paul Frees (who narrated many films and cartoons, as well as playing both John Lennon and George Harrison in the Beatles cartoon; d 1986), Lenny Weinrib (he voiced both Scrappy-Doo and H.R. Hufnstuf, among so many others; d. 2006), and voice-queen Joan Gerber (d. 2011); also child actor Buddy Foster (who played Mike Jones on both the Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry RFD; he’s also Jody’s older brother).

But the most important voice, however, is Nilsson’s as he croons the Greek-chorus songs that weave throughout the story. This can almost be seen as a happier version of The Little Prince meets Alice in Wonderland, where the child has many exciting and sometimes dangerous adventures on his way to find truth, meaning, and yes, the point of life. Then there is the consistent looking for the positive in everything like Candide.

And what happens when round-headed outcast Oblio returns to the pointed land? Well, that is the – err – point, isn’t it…

This really is a charming story and well told. It will appeal to children with the art and music, and there is enough double entendres that will keep the adults interested. And those Nilsson songs. Even with a few major hits, it is true that he was underrated for his voice and writing. This film, as a Nilsson legacy, is something to be treasured, even though it has become a bit dated over the years in some of its categorized characters. The story, however, remains true, and that’s what matters in the end.

The extra is a 27-minute documentary broken into four parts: “Who is Harry Nilsson?”, “Pitching The Point,” “Making The Point,” and “Legacy of The Point.” It’s consistently interesting, about how Nilsson brought the film to fruition. Some of the oral history is presented by the likes of director/animator Fred Wolf, Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, Terry Gilliam who animated Monty Python’s Flying Circus, John Lennon’s consort May Pang, and Harry’s last wife, Una and adult kids Annie and Beau. Shame they couldn’t get Lookinland to discuss his role.

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