Take a second and look at that cast. Quoth headliner Paul Lynde (as Templeton the Rat in the similarly choppily animated 1970s non-Disney cheapo Charlotte’s Web) this is a “veritable smorgasbord” of voice-over talent, albeit a roster that might better please the closing night crowds at the Catskills. (Was this where Lynde first met Margaret Hamilton, who was soon to make her ignominious career bookend in Lynde’s indelible 1978 Halloween special?) This is a film I haven’t seen, but whose poster strangely obsesses me: those shoddy Little Golden Book drawings, that desperately unmagical maize soaking the back of the paper like urine. And who is that angry elephant? I can think of few things that scream “relic” more than this poster, which dares to advert “HERSCHEL BERNARDI” in large caps as a way of drawing in the parents (what, no Topol?), and has the decidedly historic pairing of Liza (as Dorothy!) and Mickey Rooney. Add the nattering screeches of Lynde, Ethel Merman, and Uncle Milty, and I can freakin’ hear this movie, as it whinily belts through my head.
Yet as cobwebbed as this appears now, and as easy as these kid-unfriendly cabaret stars (destined for Forbidden Broadway parodies for years and years to come) are to bash for us “sophisticates,” let us flash forward twenty years, to little Richie or Jimmy eyeing the voice talents of the state-of-the-art Pixar extravaganza Cars: Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub, Larry the Cable Guy, George Carlin, Katharine Helmond, John Ratzenberger, Jeremy Piven . . . Merman’s lookin’ pretty sweet, now, eh?