All New, All Magical Musical Merriment from the Greatest of All Storytellers: Hans Christian Andersen
Producer Joseph E. Levine, famous for such schlock films as Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, saw a wealth of opportunity in the world of animation and clamored for a piece of the action. In May 1965, Levine announced a three-picture deal between Embassy Pictures and Videocraft International (later to become known as Rankin/Bass Productions), riding high off their recent success with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Taking the point was The Daydreamer, an ambitious, star-studded production uniting the most well known tales of the great Hans Christian Andersen in a mix of live-action and "animagic." Unfortunately, in the end, there was no way Levine's $2.95 budget could live up to his million dollar vision. Levine's resulting disappointment delayed and significantly scaled back the film's release, dooming it virtual obscurity amongst Rankin/Bass' more well known efforts.
Facts of the Case
Papa Andersen (Jack Gilford) is a humble and modest shoemaker focused more on raising his son Chris (Paul O'Keefe) than on his business. Chris is a visionary, always looking for more out of life. When Papa tells him of the legendary "Garden of Paradise," Chris packs his bags and plans his escape from this boring life. Under the cover of darkness, with the helpful guidance of the ghostly Sandman (Cyril Ritchard), he sets off in search of knowledge and adventure. On this harrowing journey, young Chris faces death in the undersea kingdom of King Neptune (Burl Ives) and his daughter Ariel (Hayley Mills), gets arrested for poaching ducks, hooks up with two con artists (Terry-Thomas, Victor Borge) as they swindle a narcissistic emperor (Ed Wynn), and helps a very small young lady (Patty Duke) as she is bought and sold from an unscrupulous Rat (Boris Karloff) to a lonely Mole (Sessue Hayakawa), all before reaching his ultimate destination—the Garden of Paradise. However, the price Chris must pay to attain his goal may be more than he bargained for.
The team of writer Arthur Rankin Jr., director Jules Bass, and composer Maury Laws will forever hold a special place in the hearts of millions who have enjoyed their classic productions. But for some reason, the success their efforts enjoyed in television never quite translated to the big screen. Many have and will continue to argue the reasons behind this disappointment, but of their three feature films only Mad Monster Party? has garnered the respect and attention of the world at large. As the remaining two pictures—The Daydreamer and The Wacky World of Mother Goose (an all linear animation project)—have finally made their way into mainstream consciousness, courtesy of Anchor Bay, it becomes clear why these films have been long since forgotten.
The Daydreamer was a blatant attempt to build off the success of such '60s star-packed Hollywood vehicles as It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and Disney's live-action animation mix of Mary Poppins (1964). As is often the case in a disappointing film, the final product fails to achieve the potential held by the original idea. In theory, the skills and abilities of the Rankin/Bass machine should have been a perfect fit for the whimsical and poignant tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Unfortunately, the reality was quite different. The story is disjointed and plodding, never reaching cruising speed or altitude. Not surprisingly, the most enjoyable segments of the film are "The Emperor's New Clothes" and "The Rat and the Mole" both of which benefit from classic Jules Bass and Maury Laws musical numbers punctuated by incomparable Rankin/Bass animated wackiness and tremendous vocal performances by Ed Wynn (The Emperor), Boris Karloff (The Rat), and Sessue Hayakawa (The Mole).
The remaining segments vary from impressively animated (the Frog attack) and mildly amusing (Thumbelina), to sleep inducing (Little Mermaid) and downright bizarre (Garden of Paradise). Burl Ives, who sells Rudolph like nobody could, appears to be doped up on Valium here as the voice of King Neptune. Tallulah Bankhead (The Sea Witch) doesn't come anywhere close to the villainy of Pat Caroll's Ursula in Disney's version of the story. Ray Bolger (The Pie Man) and Margaret Hamilton (Mrs. Klopplebobbler) are relegated to little more than cameo appearances, although Bolger does turns in both human and puppet form. The most damning evidence is the live action performances of Jack Gilford (Papa) and Paul O'Keefe (Chris)—both flat and lifeless. Never for a minute will you believe that either of these two actors were the least bit passionate about this project. To be brutally honest, their moments both together and apart come across like bad community theatre.
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame, the transfer suffers from a touch of schizophrenia—at times appearing crisp and vibrant (Neptune's undersea kingdom, Frog attack) while other times barely palpable (the Garden of Paradise climax). In another bizarre twist, producer Levine took the animated closing credits and shoved them in front of the film's opening title sequence, so as to play up the star power of the film. At first viewing, I thought something was wrong with the disc's encoding—but the production company apparently decided to not to restore the film's original flow. I'm not sure what Anchor Bay had to work with, in terms of source material, but this is not some of their best remastering work. To be honest, their newly created interactive menus are more entrancing than the print itself. The Dolby 1.0 mono track is a disappointment, especially for the rare and enjoyable musical numbers. Trust me, it won't take long before you're sick of hearing Robert Goulet sing the title track. As for bonus features, there isn't much. The original theatrical trailer is included, as is a poster and production still gallery—nothing of any real value for the Rankin/Bass groupies. There is an Easter Egg with bonus trailers to both Mad Monster Party? and the newly released Wacky World of Mother Goose—both interesting to see, but I would have preferred some type of retrospective or documentary on the vast and storied history of the Rankin/Bass franchise.
If you are expecting Rudolph or Mad Monster Party, you will be sorely disappointed. Even the younger kids will likely find The Daydreamer to be somewhat of a naptime pacifier. Go ahead and rent it if you're curious, but save your purchase dollars for something worth holding on to.
This court holds no malice against Anchor Bay for bringing forth these long lost Rankin/Bass films. However, we express our disappointment in not enjoying The Daydreamer as much as we would have liked. It can now be returned to the archives.
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