Blu-ray Review: The Point

STUDIO: MVD Rewind | DIRECTOR: Fred Wolfe | CAST: Ringo Starr, Mike Lookinland, Paul Frees, Joan Gerber, Lennie Weinrib
RELEASE DATE: 2/18/20 | PRICE: Blu-ray $19.58
BONUSES: interviews with Mike Lookinland, screenwriter Norm Lenzer, musicians Kiefo Nilsson and Bobby Halvorson, and Nilsson biographer Alyn Shipton; four-part “The Making of The Point” featurette
SPECS: NR | 75 min. | Animation family adventure | 1.37:1 fullscreen | 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround/2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video   | Overall 

While its message and music are certainly timeless, one of the most intriguing things about the 1971 made-for-TV animated feature The Point is how it reflects the time in which it was made. From the comic patter in its dialogue to the intentionally ragged quality of its animation, it is a product of the post-Yellow Submarine impulse to let a musical soundtrack drive a cartoon and include hip references in the dialogue to entertain adult viewers.

One can’t be certain if today’s children will embrace The Point, as it does wear its then-hip bona fides on its sleeve and showcases four delightfully sophisticated songs by legendary singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson. It’s an odd concoction, but it will please older viewers who can grasp the different levels on which the movie operates.

The plot concerns a round-headed boy named Oblio (voice of Mike Lookinland) who lives in a world of pointy-headed people. He is exiled from his world into the “pointless forest” where he meets and learns from various creatures, until he is allowed back into the kingdom he was born into, the population of which finally decides he “has a point” after all. Nilsson (who came up with the original scenario) and scripter Norm Lenz made the most of the “having a point” puns, which occur throughout (and do become a bit wearying).

The voice talents are solid — Lookinland (“Bobby Brady” of The Brady Bunch), Krofft show mainstay Joan Gerber as his mom, and cartoon voice-kings Paul Frees and Lennie Weinrib supply several voices each.

As mentioned above, the style of animation is intentionally ragged and seems influenced not just by Yellow Submarine but also by children’s books illustrations and the underground “comix” that were very popular in the late Sixties and early Seventies. The director, animator Fred Wolf, continued with the “underground” feel in his next job, supplying animation for Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels (1971). Thus, while the story and odd creatures link The Point to children’s books past, in its best moments its visual style seems geared toward adults, especially the “heads” in the audience.

The element that makes this prime-time network special (which first aired on ABC, on Feb. 2, 1971) so unique is Nilsson’s score. Curiously, no set piece was designed for the best-remembered song, “Me and My Arrow,” which was a Top 40 hit in late 1970 and is heard only briefly here.

“Music videos” were, however, designed for four songs from the soundtrack album (which was released before this feature was even scripted). The best of these is for the brilliant “Think About Your Troubles,” in which Nilsson follows a teardrop into the ocean and a whale’s belly, until it winds up being water in a tea cup.

The sequences designed for these songs are hands-down the best moments in the film – during these moments Oblio is still present, but what we are watching is trippy animation at its finest, unrelated to plot or character. In fact, Nilsson couldn’t resist the lyrical choice to make one of the songs, “Are You Sleeping?” a break-up song. (“And in the morning when I wake up/She may be telling me goodbye./And in the evening if we break up/I’m wondering why, I’m wondering why…”) The same, non-kids’-TV-show type of reference to a lover leaving also appears in the full lyrics of “Me and My Arrow” (with the verse in question deleted here).

The many extras in this package offer insights into Nilsson’s imagination and where it soared (in the music and overall scenario) and where it was lacking (characterization and plotting).Also, the biggest mystery is solved — namely, why there were four different narrators for this one cartoon.

The explanation, given here by various talking heads, is that Dustin Hoffman narrated The Point when it first aired on ABC. Hoffman’s contract was only for one airing of the show, and so the producers went with a more anonymous actor (Alan Barzman) and then a more jovial but still non-movie star voice (Alan Thicke) for reruns. This release contains only the later narration by close Nilsson compadre Ringo Starr for the home-video release of the film.

Scripter Norm Lenz discusses the various narrations in an interview he gave for the extras here. He also notes that he was kept away by Nilsson by Fred Wolf, as he compared The Point to The Little Prince, thus pissing off Nilsson, who did not want his scenario likened to the de Saint-Exupéry children’s classic (which it is indeed similar to).

Mike Lookinland laments that he never met Hoffman or even understood how cool the project was that he was starring in, as it was “just one more job” to him as a child actor.

A talking-head video doc about The Point is also included in the package. It seems to be a byproduct of the wonderful John Scheinfeld documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson (and why is everybody talkin’ about him? (2006), since some of the interviewees are the same, and they are seen in the same settings, in the exact same positions on-camera as in the doc.

A fascinating, long interview with Nilsson biographer Alyn Shipton chronicles Harry’s work for the movies and TV. It unfortunately features no clips of the projects being discussed and so can be best used as a guide to Nilsson clips on YouTube — although the most intriguing thing mentioned (a pilot called “Harry and Ringo’s Night Out”) is very much unavailable to the average fan. Interestingly, Shipton also says very little about Nilsson’s biggest movie score after The Point (for Robert Altman’s Popeye) and quickly mentions in passing the only time a Nilsson script was actually produced (the mind-meltingly awful 1988 “comedy” The Telephone with Whoopi Goldberg, scripted by Nilsson and Terry Southern, and directed by Rip Torn).

Scattered in among Shipton’s comments are bits from people who knew Nilsson personally or worked with him. The interviewee who seems the most out of place has the single most interesting story to tell (and it has nothing to do with The Point, or Nilsson’s movie/TV work). Frank Stallone (!) talks about Nilsson producing demos for an album for him with a top-notch group of L.A. session musicians.

The main recording session happened one tragic evening — on Dec. 8, 1980, when Nilsson learned of the shooting of his friend John Lennon (with whom the assembled musicians had worked, as well). Stallone notes that the heartbroken musicians kept on performing and the tape kept rolling, but the demos produced were rejected by the record company.

It’s a completely left-field inclusion in the featurette, but it definitely lingers in the memory and qualifies as the most intriguing historical footnote in the whole package.

Buy or Rent The Point

About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”