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The Point (Fred Wolf, 1971)

January 31, 2013

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Making a long-awaited debut on Region 2 DVD, this animated TV film from 1971 is based on a much loved concept album by American musician Harry Nilsson. Directed by Academy award winner Fred Wolf, the Nilsson-scored film arrives in a different incarnation from its very first telecast, with a notable guest star replaced by an equally famous voice.

The Point has existed in album, film and musical play incarnations, each concerning a round-headed boy named Oblio, who lives in a realm where every resident is pointy-headed; similarly, the architecture of the land is also pointed, as are animals like Oblio’s faithful dog Arrow. Essentially, everything in The Land of Point has a point. Since he has no point upon his head, Oblio dons a pointed hat to fit in, and his nonconformity is generally accepted until one fateful day in the schoolyard. An evil Count oversees The Land of Point, and his son is dishonoured by Oblio’s victory during a one-on-one game of local game Triangle Toss, in which participants catch a thrown triangle on their pointed heads. Enraged by what this may mean for his son’s outlined future as a respected ruler of the land, the Count confronts the timid King of Point, insisting that an otherwise ignored law be reaffirmed: a law which states that those who are pointless must be banished from the Land of Point and sent in the direction of The Pointless Forest.

The banished Oblio, accompanied by Arrow, makes his way to the Pointless Forest, where he encounters a series of intriguing figures, including a man made of rock and three, large dancing sisters. Most notably, they have recurring encounters with a ‘pointed man’ whose body points in all directions. The man suggests that “A point in every direction is the same as no point at all”. Oblio and Arrow, however, begin to realise that perhaps everyone and everything in The Pointless Forest has a point, even if it may not be so easily visible.

In the film version of The Point, there is a framing device in which a father tells his son the story of Oblio as a bedtime story. In the very first broadcast, the father was voiced by Dustin Hoffman. For contractual reasons, later airings and an eventual home video release could not use Hoffman’s voice, with the father’s dialogue having to be re-recorded with different performers. The home video release has Ringo Starr as the father. The casting of Starr as a storyteller figure brings to mind his work as the first narrator of Thomas the Tank Engine, albeit with a touch more humour. That being said, there’s something about the father’s dialogue that seems almost catered to particular aspects of Dustin Hoffman’s screen persona. Starr is perfectly fine in the role, but it is a shame that previous recordings of the father have not been made available for alternative listening. It’s also a tad distracting hearing Starr’s distinct Liverpool accent amidst a cast of all American sounding voices, including Oblio as played by The Brady Bunch child star Mike Lookinland.

The film’s strange animation style may seem simple, but its storybook-like look is effective in motion. It’s quite appropriate for Harry Nilsson’s pleasant songs that informed and score the film, the animation going for a similarly imaginative, abstract style rather than more easily definable character designs and movements. Hallucinogenic sequences that wouldn’t look out of place in Yellow Submarine also seem apt, given that Nilsson apparently came up with The Point’s storyline while on an LSD trip.

Speaking of The Beatles, part of the film’s message is that all you need is love for one another, or at least understanding, being that an individual’s point is in how they act, not in what they look like. Despite the pun play at work in the story, the film’s message isn’t delivered in an annoyingly blunt way, though there’s some perhaps unintentional humour in the narrating father criticising television for ruining children’s minds, all while being a subject in a television film himself.

At just under seventy five minutes in length, the film offers a brisk, enjoyable bit of – excuse the pun – pointed entertainment, and also acts as a unique time capsule. Released in an era of tense race relations and the Vietnam War, the film promoted open-minded acceptance in a highly stylised but still easily accessible manner. The Point’s message-conveying may well become preachy upon repeat viewings, but Nilsson’s lovely music and the film’s look should ensure such an experience would still have appeal.

Full review at Subtitled Online

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