The gulf between good and bad children’s entertainment is wide, but generally speaking, the bad stuff reflects cynicism (as if putting any old cutesy slop in front of kids is sufficient for making a buck) whereas the good stuff reflects the higher calling of exposing children to noble values. The preceding is a prosaic way of saying that even though animated feature The Mouse and His Child is not nearly as delightful as its makers presumably hoped it would be, the movie represents an attempt to do all the right things. It’s clever and fantastical and sweet, using the sugar of bright colors and lively music and wild characters to coat the pill of worthy themes. Whenever the picture falls short, it’s not for lack of trying.
Based on a novel by Russell Hoban, the movie begins in a toy shop, where the conjoined wind-up toys of an adult mouse (voiced by Alan Barzman) and his offspring (voiced by Marcy Swenson) achieve consciousness for the first time. The idea seems to be that they were recently created by the store’s owner, thus becoming sentient. Through convoluted circumstances, the mice leave the store for the outside world, beginning a long adventure during which they’re exploited by a sewer-dwelling rodent crook, Manny the Rat (Peter Ustinov), and befriended by various other creatures. There’s an existential quality to the toys’ journey, since they seek to become “self-winding,” a concept pregnant with metaphorical implications. At its deepest/trippiest, The Mouse and His Child features a scene of the mice, underwater, becoming hypnotized by an infinity painting that adorns the label of a dog-food can. Similarly, the mice encounter a philosophical turtle whose dialogue is so rarified he mentions “works cited.”
It’s all a bit formless and meandering, but none would ever accuse the folks behind this picture of condescending to youthful viewers. The animation is relatively detailed, not quite to the Disney standard but fairly lush, and the voice cast features several familiar names. (Besides Ustinov, participants include Neville Brand, John Carradine, Andy Devine, Sally Kellerman, and Cloris Leachman,) A handful of unmemorable songs decorate the soundtrack, as well. All things considered, it’s not difficult to imagine that The Mouse and His Child means something to people who saw it back in the day, and perhaps even to some who discovered it later. If not actually special, it is at the very least a respectable effort.
The Mouse and His Child: FUNKY