Sunday, November 2, 2014

SPECIAL REVIEW: "Mouse on the Mayflower" (1968)


Autumn, 1993. A much younger DLAbaoaqu was in the first grade. He and his class were shown a VHS tape shortly before Thanksgiving break. It was a little cartoon about a mouse that traveled with the Pilgrims to the New World and participated in the settling of Plymouth Colony. He vaguely recalled the mouse living in a church and a bunch of sailors (plus one Indian) trying to ruin the new holiday.

The special would never cross my mind again for twenty years. When it finally did, a Google search revealed its title: Rankin-Bass' The Mouse on the Mayflower.

I haven't touched on Rankin-Bass yet, but my friend maniacaldude from last time considers its stop-motion efforts (codified by the Rankin-Bass Christmas Special Universe) to be some of the lowest quality he's ever seen. But I'm probably not going to delve into that stuff here (as far as I know). Instead, I'm planning on sticking with RB's traditional animation.

All that out of the way, let's find out if this special is a pearl trampled under countless football games... or just another turkey.

SUMMARY


We open at a church in the late 1960's, whose belfry is home to our narrator -- a mouse called William. His forefather, Wilhelm, boarded the Mayflower back in 1620 and was present at the founding of Plymouth Colony. William reads us Wilhelm's account of those events.

We start in England, where the Puritans are gathered together at their church. Of course, people didn't understand their customs... but the worst thing that King James I and his supporters ever do is hurl tomatoes at the church door.

Wilhelm goes on to talk about the members of the congregation: we have William Bradford, Miles Standish (who was actually a Stranger), an original character called Charity Blake, John Alden, Priscilla Mullins, and (finally) Wilhelm himself.

With the historical figures, the character designers did a pretty good of replicating their appearances:

JOHN ALDEN
MILES STANDISH

William Bradford on the other hand, has merged with Reverend William Brewster, took his job, shaved, and became a stock Pilgrim:


Bradford announces that, since everyone's tired of being treated like dirt by the king, they're all going to move to Virginia and start a colony there. It would seem that the stuff about their financial and ideological troubles in Holland and the issues with the Speedwell aren't being discussed (either for time or other matters), so they just cut to the boarding of the Mayflower on September 6, 1620.


As the Saints and Strangers (okay, this version was dumbed down... there are no Strangers in this telling) board, we are shown our subplot for this special: the love triangle between Miles Standish, John Alden, and Priscilla Mullins. Here, Alden is depicted as pretty much Standish's whipping boy instead of one of the ship's coopers. Of course, Standish does get a little owned on his end and has to take care of a chicken:

 To think that Bright Noa would get it worse centuries later...

When Bradford shows the captain (accurately identified as Christopher Jones) the chest with the money to finance the trip, we meet two of the villains of the special: the sailors Scave and Quizzler. Seeing the gold used to pay for the trip, the twosome plan on stealing it for themselves should a disaster befall the ship.

The weird part of this? They're the only two characters with British accents; despite Bradford, Standish, Jones, Alden, and the rest of the Mayflower's passengers and crew historically originating in England, they all sound American.

Where is Wilhelm in all this? He overslept... but he makes the ship. By shoe:


As the Pilgrims adjust to their cramped life on the Mayflower, the ship enters a storm with thunderless lightning. Seriously, bolts with no noise to follow.

Amid the pitch of the Atlantic waves, a beam cracks, threatening the ship's frame. The two sailors try to use this as a way to make off with the gold, but Wilhelm leads Standish into the hold (by stealing a medal off of his chest). Standish finds the broken beam and tells the sailors to warn the passengers; Quizzler tells him it's none of their business... and Standish up and SLAPS the dude across the face!

Words don't describe the awesomeness of this scene. Just watch:

No-nonsense attitude.
British with no accent.
Now slapping people.
You ARE the 17th Century Bright Noa.

As history tells us, the beam was repaired because of a "great iron screw" (reportedly of a printing press owned by Brewster, but others have suggested a building tool used by the passengers)... only here, they came up with the idea through Wilhelm! Standish congratulates Wilhelm for his ingenuity, though HOW he knew his name is a mystery.

After the storm passes, we return to our love triangle. Alden tries to pass on Standish's messages to Priscilla, but gets shoved away by Ms. Blake. Other than to remind the viewer that they're still in the story, it serves as a segue to a musical number... but we'll get into those after the summary.

The Mayflower finally reaches the coast of North America. But surprise! They're not at Virginia... it's New England! With winter coming on, the passengers were left with no choice but to start a colony there.

This is only partially accurate to history: Mayflower's destination was Virginia, but Virginia (at this time) stretched as far north as New York state. The first bit of North American soil the Pilgrims ever saw was Manhattan Island. They attempted to settle there, but the shoals proved to be too big a risk. The Strangers, those who boarded the Mayflower for non-religious reasons, wanted to mutiny when the ship went to New England. Because of this, some ground rules had to be set down which leads us to the next point in the special.

With preparations for a settlement underway, a binding document was written up for all passengers on the ship to sign. At only one-hundred ninety-six words, this document -- the Mayflower Compact -- would allow for a temporary period of self-government until the Virginia Company could get permission for the Puritans to permanently live there from the Council of New England. Of greater significance, the document would be the forerunner to the Constitution of the United States.

Of course, Wilhelm signed it in the special as well.

In our reality, the original Mayflower Compact is lost. Whether it was through a fire or the American Revolution, we may never know.


The one of this universe was in our narrator's possession inside of a random American church.

Back to the special.

The story bypasses the surveying of Cape Cod and skips to the landing at Plymouth Rock. Here, Alden relays another message to Priscilla from Standish. She clearly isn't interested in him and Alden has the upper hand in the triangle... but he can't really bring himself to admit his love for her.


Meanwhile, Wilhelm encounters a Native American mouse called Little Big Thunder and the two quickly become friends. How a rodent can identify with a human ethnicity is beyond me... but I think some obscure SJW will come out of the woodwork to call me dumb for "just not getting it".

With another mouse around, we finally can hear Wilhelm talk. Unfortunately, Thunder's syntax is that of the old, trite "You heap big chief?" thing. It's quite dated and a trifle unsettling, I'll give it that... but it's not something that would make me put an unskippable, ultra-PC disclaimer telling you stuff you should already know between the article link and this review.

Anyway, Thunder's new friendship with Wilhelm brings the Wampanoag into the picture, several months ahead of history.


We then get introduced to the third villain of the story: Smiling Buzzard. This violent soul quickly gets excommunicated from the Wampanoag Confederacy and wanders into to the wilderness, where he summons a grizzly called Big Wheeze. The bear, according to Wilhelm's account, wandered out of Canada and came to Cape Cod.

"The part of Big Wheeze will be played by Baloo!"

It doesn't take long before the villains of the Eastern and Western Hemispheres bump into each other (apparently, bad guys can detect one another via their noses) and form an alliance.

The Wampanoag come across the Puritans during a prayer meeting. Yeah, no Samoset to greet them in English; a whole bunch of them just waltz up and try to get a closer look.

As for our four villains, they attempt to make it seem like the Wampanoag killed Quizzler in order to provoke a massacre. The mice catch onto to what the group was trying to do and perform a pantomime act to tell the Puritans and Natives to be friends. It worked for Standish.

As for bad guys, their cover was blown by Ms. Blake's chicken, which showed that Quizzler was playing possum. Standish proceeds to chase the foursome away with his musket. They headed due west, never to be seen again in this special. I'd like to think that they tried to make their own settlement on the other side of the Appalachians... but it eventually died out being as the population was three men, a bear, and no women.

A pineapple? Must have cost an arm and a leg for Massasoit!

With the Puritans now on friendly terms with the Wampanoag, they begin building their town. But snow starts falling. Thus starts the deadly winter of 1620/1621, where the population was slashed dramatically.

Amid Wilhelm's grieving, he finds newly-sprouted wildflowers, which he shows to Bradford. Winter has passed, and the colony starts to turn around. By autumn, the Plymouth Plantation has an abundant amount of food, so much so that Wilhelm suggests inviting Thunder to the festival... something quickly extended to the Native Americans. If you don't know where this is going, you probably need to brush up on your American History and culture.

Finally, the Standish/Priscilla/Alden triangle is resolved during another relay. Priscilla, fed up with Alden being Standish's messenger boy, demands that he speaks for himself for a change. Thus, the future is guaranteed Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, former Vice President Dan Quayle, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Orson Welles, Marilyn Monroe, and much, much more! Eventually Standish's genes would enter into the bloodline and produce Dick van Dyke!

No, really. The people listed here are really John Alden and Priscilla Mullins' descendants.

The first Thanksgiving goes over quite well and thus the ground is broken for what would eventually become the United States. Oddly enough, Wilhelm could understand how it became a national holiday -- something that never took place until the Lincoln administration. Was he immortal or something?

THE END


VERDICT

Not exactly stellar in terms of animation quality, but it was okay for 1968. Looking at the art style, I'm reminded of Scooby-Doo, what with all the eyes that match everyone's skin and it hitting the airwaves one year before. Only the animation wasn't done by Hanna-Barbara, it was outsourced to Toei Animation. Y'know... the Dragonball series, Digimon, Voltron, One Piece?

Of course, there were mistakes made in regard to research. Some stuff was only partially correct and other events were moved around at the expense of the plot. For instance, if the Wampanoag had met the Puritans on good terms in 1620, where were they during the deadly winter at the start of the following year? The script could have used just one more revision.

Historically inaccurate? Yes, but it's not the most grievous case (believe me, we will get into worse stuff in the future).

But where this special shines brightest is the music. Some songs reminded me so much of RB's latter Tolkien cartoons, be it the rousing title ("Mayflower, Mayflower"), the upbeat song where Wilhelm tries to get situated on the ship ("How About A Little Elbow Room?"), or the grandiose recurring piece "November". It helps that Wilhelm and the narrator were played by Country-Western artist Tennessee Ernie Ford (say what you will about RB's overall animation quality, they pulled in some excellent vocal talent).

Also, we have a song for Priscilla Mullins: "When He Looks At Me". It feels so Bond-esque and is peppered with psychedelic imagery (which is a point in this special's favor from me... I like that stuff). It also has some Disney shout-outs, specifically to Cinderella.

All-in-all, it's pretty good for small kids... but if you're into the facts, it may not be for you (except from a point of bile fascination, maybe). If I may make a recommendation, track down the Pilgrims episode of This Is America, Charlie Brown. It's noticeably shorter than this special and a lot more accurate.


Hmm... I brought up Hanna-Barbara in this verdict.


I'm DLAbaoaqu and I'll Return!

Mouse on the Mayflower (1968) is owned by Time-Warner.
Anastasia (1999?) is owned by Dingo Pictures.
Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (1986) is owned by Sunrise.

5 comments:

  1. Embellishing is no strangers to media based on history. Just depends on how it's done but....can't exactly say if it was well or not here.

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    1. Perhaps if you were a small child, it wouldn't matter if there were Strangers and Saints or just one composite group. Didn't detract from the Thanksgiving story when I was five, so it's probably my being a stickler for history talking.

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  2. Nice review, never heard of this special (though I have no reason to do so)

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    Replies
    1. Well, you're British and I'm American.

      (Then again, most of the characters in this special WERE British, so make of that what you will)

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  3. Holy crap! Toei worked on this?

    ReplyDelete