Color, 1966, 98 mins. 41 secs.
Directed by Jules Bass
Tallulah Bankhead, Victor Borge, Patty Duke, Jack Gilford, Margaret Hamilton, Sessu Hayakawa, Burl Ives, Boris Karloff, Hayley Mills, Paul O'Keefe, Cyril Ritchard, Terry-Thomas, Ed Wynn, Ray Bolger
Scorpion Releasing / Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
Always overshadowed by the immortal Mad Monster Party?, this musical fantasy from the stop-motion impresarios at Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment actually came out a year before as part of a three-film arrangement with Embassy Pictures and also features the voice talents of Boris Karloff. Riding high on the popularity of the holiday TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and its many spin-offs, Rankin/Bass never quite caught the right project for the big screen that would make it a solid competitor to Disney. They certainly tried though, with this one obviously inspired by 1962's The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, 1952's Hans Christian Andersen, and the mixture of songs (by director Jules Bass and regular composer Maury Laws), live action, and animation in Mary Poppins, not to mention an eye-popping roster of all-star voice talent.
In a quaint Danish village, young Hans Christian Andersen (The Patty Duke Show's O'Keefe) is frustrated with the meager living earned by his shoemaker father (Gilford). Inspired by his dad's story about the mythical Garden of Paradise that provides all knowledge from candy-flavored flowers, Chris is distracted from his studies and goes on a trek away from home in a pilfered boat to find this magical place. With his father bumbling his way through a rescue mission, Hans is encouraged by a floating blue sandman and daydreams his way through what will become some of his most famous stories including "The Little Mermaid" (sticking surprisingly close to the very dark and downbeat original) with Hayley Mills, Burl Ives, and a feisty Talullah Bankhead as the sea witch. Terry-Thomas and Victor Borge also get to have a ball as the two fast-talking tailors in "The Emperor's New Clothes" with Ed Wynn as the title character, plus Patty Duke as "Thumbelina." The interesting wrinkle here is that an animated Chris is the connection between all of the stories as he interacts with the characters, along the way weaving in elements of other stories-to-be as well like "The Ugly Duckling."
Obviously there are two big draws here: the spectacle of Rankin/Bass animation at the height of their powers, and the wild cast including a nasty live-action turn by The Wizard of Oz's Margaret Hamilton and of course Karloff himself in the spookiest segment as "the Rat." Extra points to the puppet makers for keeping Terry-Thomas' signature tooth gap intact on his character here, and all of the stories are short enough that the film clips along pleasantly enough. On the downside, the songs (apart from an okay "Moon River"-inspired opening ditty crooned by Robert Goulet) are mostly filler that wouldn't have too many folks rushing out for a soundtrack, but at least they're still many notches above what audiences were experienced at the same time in all those dubbed K. Gordon Murray imports.
For some reason, The Daydreamer has had a very modest history on home video since its theatrical release from Embassy; in fact, it has a far more robust lineage as a TV and kiddie matinee staple. Anchor Bay released it on DVD back in 2003 featuring a trailer, TV spots, and a small image gallery, but that was pretty much it for 18 years until Scorpion Releasing via Kino Lorber brought the film to Blu-ray and DVD from a new HD master courtesy of Studio Canal. As with past presentations, the film is provided at the 1.33:1 Academy aspect ratio; most American theaters would have run it at 1.85:1 without any significant composition issues, but it's fun to have here completely open matte so you can savor all of the animation. (Zooming it to 1.78:1 on modern displays works just fine, too.) Image quality is fine and sticks with the original aesthetic of the film, including some occasional baked-in scratches on some frames during the animated sequences. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track is also fine, again with some occasional inherent flaws in the dialogue recording (like some fleeting dropouts at the 53-minute mark) that seem to originate from the original source. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided. A new audio commentary with Rick Goldschmidt and Lee Gambin covers a ton of ground with plenty of Rankin/Bass and Animagic history, connections to other all-star fantasy films dating back at least to the '30s Alice in Wonderland, the function of the various songs, other intended projects that never saw the light of day, and an open acknowledgment of some of the film's flaws. Bonus trailers are also included for The Time Travelers, Slow Dancing in the Big City, The Railway Children, Arabian Adventure, and Jack the Giant Killer.
Reviewed on August 31, 2021.