Regular readers should know that we typically don’t watch bootleg films and TV shows for the blog. Trying to set a good example and all. But The Mouse and His Child has never been released in English on DVD, and I remember enjoying it as a kid, when HBO showed it frequently. There are bootlegs floating around with that omnipresent rainbow at the top of the screen that you’d get from VHS tapes, and this morning, I broke the rules and we watched it.
The movie was made in California by Murakami-Wolf Productions, the team behind many very forgettable 1970s TV specials, with some level of production or financial assistance from Japan’s Sanrio and, hidden right on the very last screen of credits at the end of the movie, Charles Schulz. I wonder what he brought to the table. Peter Ustinov voiced the villainous Manny the Rat, and Cloris Leachman and John Carradine joined him in the studio. It got a theatrical release in this country and was an HBO regular for most of a year. There were two VHS releases, but it’s been largely unavailable in English since the early nineties.
It’s actually a very strange film, defying a few of my expectations along the way. It’s sort of a proto-Toy Story, where tin toys come to life when nobody is looking. The protagonists are, interestingly, completely helpless without assistance. The Mouse and his Child are tin toys joined at the hands and they require somebody to wind them up in order to move anywhere.
Other than an eardrum-disintegrating song warbled by a little boy that tops and tails the movie, it’s pretty good. Our son enjoyed it, guffawing at some of the slapstick and curious what would happen next. I was intrigued by the filthy world of the story. It’s set in a city dump and the neighboring creek and pond, which are practically buried in trash and garbage that the animals have scavenged. The villain is a rat who uses wind-up toys to bring trash back into the dump for him to nebulously build some sort of empire. When the Mouse and his Child escape, thanks to a fatal mistake by one of his underlings, the villain becomes unreasonably obsessed with recapturing them.
I liked that there’s a level of danger in this film. One of the captive wind-ups is dismantled for scrap early on, and the henchrat I mentioned gets gobbled by a badger. The villain’s fate is prophesied, and so you’ll spend the entire movie waiting for a junkyard dog to show up and do him in. I was pleased that while the prophecy does come true, a dog does rise and a rat does fall, it doesn’t quite mean what we expect. There’s also one remarkably grisly moment when the villain loses his temper and the camera doesn’t show what he’s doing, but focuses on the bad guy as he realises that he has gone too far.
You’ll notice I’ve written more about the villain than the protagonists. That’s probably because the Mouse and his Child are so helpless and swept along by “destiny,” physically moved from location to location by other characters. They have an objective – the Child wants two other wind-ups to become his mother and his sister and his dad just agrees – but they’re largely incapable of doing anything about it until the final reel. Of course, that’s also because when you put Peter Ustinov in the recording booth, you were largely giving him carte blanche to steal the show. So sure, it’s a flawed film, but a pretty good one, and now that I’ve watched it again, I can place the odd little fragment of memory of somebody in some forgotten movie yelling “Treacle brittle!” into its correct context.