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  Mouse and his Child, The What It Feels Like For A Toy
Year: 1977
Director: Charles Swenson, Fred Wolf
Stars: Peter Ustinov, Cloris Leachman, Sally Kellerman, Andy Devine, Alan Barzman, Marcy Swenson, Neville Brand, Regis Cordic, Joan Gerber, Bob Holt, Mel Leven, Maitzi Morgan, John Carradine
Genre: Animated, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: A toyshop in winter, and the clockwork figures of a Mouse (Alan Barzman) and his Child (Marcy Swenson) are sitting in the window where a tramp (John Carradine) and his pet dog wander past, briefly entranced by the sight of them spinning in circles. But as the lights go out and the owner shuts up shop, the toys spring to life when the clock strikes midnight, dancing and singing. The Mouse and his Child are worried about this, being new here, but the Child likes the look of the Seal (Sally Kellerman) and the Elephant (Joan Gerber) and is willing to stay with them until - oh dear - they fall off their ledge to the floor below...

Russell Hoban's novel that this was drawn from is considered a minor classic of children's literature, so it's natural that someone would want to turn it into a film: a cartoon, at that. However, when directors Charles Swenson and Fred Wolf, working from a script by Carol Monpere, presented their film to the world, the response was, as is is so often with such things, "It's not the same as the book" and the overall feeling was that the philosophising of the original had been toned down to a more contrived "happy ever after" style of fairy tale.

But try telling that to the kids of the day who say this, probably on television, whom this film deeply impressed. Either because they were enchanted, or because they were disturbed by it: there's plenty of violence on display and not in a Tom and Jerry manner. Once the Mouse and his Child, who seem forever joined together at the paws, were thrown away into the garbage, they ended up at the dump and encountered that tramp once more, but only fleetingly as they are soon whisked away by Manny the Rat (volubly performed by Peter Ustinov).

Manny is the villain of the piece and sets toys to work in his rat empire, collecting food for him and his underlings and the Mouse and his Child are soon put to work. However, these two will soon prove to be Manny's undoing as their need to get to a safe place, and just as importantly not be reliant on others to wind them up so they can move about, outweighs any slavery they might find themselves under. They escape and seek out the Muskrat, (Bob Holt), a mechanical genius who can make them self-winding as he did previous toys who came to him.

The philosophy is there, but it's muted by what appear to be more conventional cartoon baddies versus goodies clich├ęs, with the look after your friends, follow your dreams, kind of thing mixed in. Every so often something verging on the cosmic will intrude, such as when the Child contemplates the infinite via a picture on a can of dog food, but this merely serves to confuse matters. Then there's the brutality, which even has our heroes smashed to bits by the vengeful Manny - they are repaired, but it's a scene to make you ponder. Nostalgia is a powerful force, and there are many with fond memories of this film, but it's a curious mishmash overall, well animated yet not entirely satisfying, whether you have read the book or not. The sense that there's a lot going on underneath the surface lingers, however, a need to find meaning in it all. Music by Roger Kellaway.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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