Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jessipedia - Babette (Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure)

As children, I think we all hoped our toys could magically come to life. The Disney movie Toy Story entertained that very notion. Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and a comical bunch of other toys became living objects who had lives of their own when real people weren't looking. This was not the first time this concept was tried for a movie, but by far the most successful. The Christmas Toy was made by Henson Studios in the mid eighties where toys came to life when left alone. It also dealt with one new toy of the group not knowing she is a toy at all. These characters though were all Henson puppets. There was a fully animated movie from 1977 (directed Who Framed Roger Rabbit's lead animator Richard Williams) titled Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure, which first used the very same plot. One character, named Babette, was a beautiful french doll who was shipped to the playroom and has no idea she's a doll at all. Sound familiar? The history of Jessica Rabbit's look can be traced to this character. With her cherubic face, pouty lips, and big purple eyelids - one can definitely see some similarities to Jessica.

When working on an animated feature film, it is common for many different artists to work on different characters in an effort to get the work done. With the Raggedy Ann movie, an animator was assigned one specific character to work with. While more time consuming, it definitely adds so much depth to the animation - seeing everyones different hand-drawn works come alive as one on screen. Who Framed Roger Rabbit did have that in common somewhat, as Richard Williams did find time to do animation with certain characters by himself when he could. Artist Russell Hall and Richard Williams had to come up with the very unique look for Jessica - and while the details of who actually landed onto the design of her we are more familiar with aren't fully clear - there had to be some inspiration taken from Williams' previous film character, Babette.

Looking at Babette's eyes, lips, face and mannerisms - can't you see some hints of what would become Jessica Rabbit hiding within? The movie was very ahead of it's time, and Richard Williams was doing back then what he was doing with Roger Rabbit - making sure EVERY bit of animation on screen was fluid and moving. He does that to the utmost extreme in Raggedy Ann. The animation is definitely a feast for the eyes.

Another little similarity is in the relationship of The Captian (a toy who is trapped in a snowglobe) and Babette. The short, little Captain is completely infatuated when he first sees Babette - and in familiar Richard Williams style, the Captain's long mustache forms heart shapes. This is very reminiscent of what Williams did with Roger Rabbit's ears - and also another height differentiation like that of Roger and Jessica.

The playroom belongs to little Marcella. She is celebrating her birthday and a special package has arrived. Inside is the beautiful french doll, Babette. Marcella tells her Raggedy Ann doll to take good care of Babette, and when she leaves the room, all her toys come to life to welcome Babette. When Babette comes out of her doll house, she is distraught by not knowing where she is. Raggedy Ann and Andy try to explain that the playroom is her new home, but Babette wants to be back in Paris. Not only that, but Babette seems to be unaware she IS a doll. Raggedy Ann explains it all (in song of course) and Babette also sings about how sad she is to be there (the song titled Poor Babette which is hard to understand with her heavy accent), and since she has no choice she will stay. The Captain, from inside his snowglobe way up on a high shelf, sees Babette and is in love at first sight. He gets Raggedy Ann to help him escape the glass globe, but quickly turns on the others by kidnapping Babette - with his crew and entire ship going out the window into the woods. Raggedy Ann and Andy agree they must get Babette back before Marcella finds out.

Raggedy Ann and Andy meet some interesting characters along the way, like The Camel with the Wrinkles Knees, who joins them to help rescue Babette. After they encounter the insane King Koo Koo, they find a boat and are hot on the trails of the helpless Babette - and the King (who needs Raggedy Ann and the others to make him laugh) is right behind them. Babette is not as helpless as they once thought. When taking a peek aboard the ship, they see that Babette is singing and dancing with the crew.

After they get aboard, they ask Babette to come back to the playroom, but she refuses. She has taken over the ship and is sailing back to Paris. She takes Raggedy Ann and the others prisoner. The real Captain manages to free himself with the help of his parrot, Queasey, and pleads with Babette to be his one and only. Just then, King Koo Koo and a giant octopus sea monster attack the ship. The King wants all the crew tickled as he will find this funny, and the more the King laughs, the more he expands - like a balloon - therefore achieving his goal to be the biggest King in the world.

The octopus, Gazooks, captures everyone and tickles them, including Raggedy Ann and Babette. The Captain's parrot, Queasey, uses his beak to blow up the inflated King - and the explosion knocks all of our toy friends back into reality.

While walking in her back yard, Marcella finds her toys laying around a pond outside. She's obviously confused about how her dolls got out there in the first place and brings them all inside, except the Camel, who she doesn't see. When alone inside, the toys are grateful to be back home. Babette asks Raggedy Ann to forgive her, and The Captain still has feelings for Babette. When the Camel makes his way into the room from the window, everyone welcomes him and he is happy he finally found a new home.

This movie is a classic when it comes to traditional animation. Everything is hand drawn, and from what numerous reports state, Richard Williams may have been bumped out of the director's chair because he was taking so long with the animation. This would also plague him in his long-standing pet project called The Thief and the Cobbler, a movie that he worked on for almost 30 years. The Raggedy Ann movie was hurried along with a new director, and opened to very mixed reviews. It might not have been a success at the time, but it is definitely worth watching. The songs are very catchy and the characters are all very fun and memorable - but the artwork, full of influence by Williams, is wonderful to watch.

Remember little Marcella, she is listed on as the daughter of Richard Williams, Claire, and also worked on Who Framed Roger Rabbit as a tracer... and I'll bet unlike Andy from Toy Story, Marcella kept every one of her dolls. While many people have cited Cool World and Space Jam as a comparison to Roger Rabbit, Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure is much more a fit - even if the humans don't interact with the cartoons. It's clear to see the early stylings and characterizations taking place in what we now know from Roger. The relationships between the short Captain and the exaggerated Babette recalls that of Roger and Jessica (as does the Captain's responding mustache does of Roger's ever moving ears.) It also deals with the old and the new - the new doll coming into the comfortable setting of the old established friends, a concept used again in Disney's Toy Story. Babette's song was always a favorite of mine - even though for about 30 years I didn't know was she was saying - her voice is so funny and dramatic. If you want a real roots look at where Jessica may have come from, and glimpse at the beautiful style of Richard Williams, you'll definitely want to watch this movie.

Babette was animated by Hal Ambro and voiced by Niki Flacks.