Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Point! (Review)

Director: Fred Wolf

Company: Murakami-Wolf Productions, ABC

Year: 1971

Country: USA

What happens when a rock artist decides to tell a childern's story in animated form?

Although it is largely forgotten by the general public, The Point! holds an interesting place in animation history. The television movie premiered as part of the ABC Movie of the Week lineup which ran from 1969 to 1976, making The Point! the first U.S. animated special to air during prime time. The animation was provided by Jimmy Murakami and Fred Wolf. Murakami would later become known for his adaptions of the British childern's books The Snowman (1982) and When the Wind Blows (1986). Wolf is best remembered for animating the famous Tootsie Pop 'How Many Lick's' commercials, and his work on various TV series and specials (such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Ducktales). The Point! itself is based off of a childern's story conceived by the folk rock artist Harry Nilsson, who performed such hits as "Everybody's Talkin'", "Without You", and "Coconut". Nilsson decided to write The Point! and compose music to it after he was inspired by a drug trip, as he describes it below.   

"I was on acid and I looked at the trees and I realized that they all came to points, and the little branches came to points, and the houses came to point. I thought, "Oh! Everything has a point, and if it doesn't, then there's a point to it."

Yep, now I'm certain that I am watching a cartoon made in the early '70s.

The film's plot is fairly simple. The Point! is told as a frame story when a father (first voiced by Dustin Hoffman, and later Ringo Star in subsequent releases) decides to read his son a book in order to detach the boy from the TV set. The father then acts as the narrator for the rest of the film. Our hero of The Point! ironically is born 'pointless.' Unlike all of the other residents of The Land of Point, Oblio is born without a triangular shaped head. Oblio's head is perfectly round. To try to get him to fit in, Oblio's parents give their son a pointed hat to wear. Oblio is also given a pet dog, named Arrow, to keep him company. Oblio is generally liked and accepted by his peers. But one day, Oblio angers the greedy Count's son after he beats him in a game of triangle toss. The Count thus banishes Oblio to the Pointless Forest. Lost in the forest, Oblio and Arrow come to learn that the area's seemingly odd inhabitants do have points to their behavior after all, even if they are not at first apparent. Oblio then realizes that being different is not something to be ashamed of or to hide, and that change can, in fact, be beneficial to society.  

Likewise, the animation itself is not very complex and generally suits The Point! fairly well. The style of The Point! resembles childern's drawings. (It also sports some bizarre imagery, including naked, fat, bouncing ladies. Yes, you heard that right.) While watching The Point! one can not help to think of The Yellow Submarine (1968). The characters don't move much in certain places of the film. Being a TV production, The Point!'s age definitely shows. The awkward movements and splotchy cell coloring in this film can come off as a bit unsightly. It could be due to the age of the film's print, but the color saturation is very bright at times. The character designs are quirky, in their own charming sort of way. Many of The Point!'s inhabitants look like they would be right at home in shows such as Phineas and FerbAdventure Time, or some of Nickelodeon's recent cartoon output.

The Pointless Forest, not so 'pointless' after all.

Because the film was conceived around Nilsson's musical narrative, most of The Point!'s score is pretty good. Of course in order to enjoy the music, you have to be a fan of the country-rock ballads popular during the late 1960s - early 1970s. The music segments allow for the animation to go off in some rather experimental and odd directions (most notably the psychedelic sequence for the song, "Are You Sleeping?", which is only interconnected to the plot via a dream Oblio has). The movie's most successful song, no doubt, was "Me and My Arrow", which went on to become something of a breakaway hit. (It was even referenced in a recent The Simpsons episode, "To Cur With Love", about Homer's childhood pet dog.) However, not all of The Point!'s songs are as memorable. "Think About Your Troubles" was a miss. It's a rather weird and monotonous number about dying, bodies decomposing, and the food chain. The Lion King certainly covered such themes about birth and death in the nature song, "The Circle of Life", much more effectively.

Nilsson's best known song made for this production is "Me and My Arrow." 

The message of the movie is an important one being about accepting diversity, following one's own intention, and realizing that everyone in society has a unique role to play. However, the execution of the way in which the story is told is where this film suffers the most. The Point! drags on for too long. Because the film's story is relatively simple and to the point (no pun intended), The Point! would work far better if it only ran half an hour to forty-five minutes versus an hour and ten minutes in length. Because the animation was made on a tighter budget, much of the unnecessary time used up is spent listening to extra lines of dialogue or on the film's song sequences. This time could have been used to flesh out some of the characters more. Or if the film was shorter, the animation itself could have likely been made on a higher budget.

In the end, The Point! while an interesting experiment, turns out to be a fairly average viewing experience. The Point! occupies an odd niche. It's a become something of a cult film given its counterculture influences, music by Harry Nilsson, and unique art style. But like certain cult films, The Point! has some definite problems in terms of its narrative flow and ability to hold its audience's attention. It's a bit of a shame because you can see that there was some thought put into this production, but it just doesn't quite deliver. Almost but not quite.

Oblio gets the point, literally.  

Rating: 3/5

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