Twenty years later you thumb through some incomprehensible Japanese book listing every animated film ever released in Japan from 1941 until 1990 or so, and you see a picture that jogs your memory hard, like a fist, and you stand there shocked as you realize that no, you didn't DREAM that movie or IMAGINE it or HALLUCINATE it after one too many shots of Dimetapp Children's Cough Syrup - it actually exists, for once your memory isn't cheating. There actually is a Japanese animated film about little witches who fly broom-helicopters on fire missions against a spectacularly homely boy named Jack and his carload of animal friends, there really is a movie filled with spooky castles and crumbling balustrades and legions of devilish imps, featuring a giant machine that exists only to turn friendly woodland creatures into evil witches.
That's JACK AND THE WITCH, a movie seemingly produced to give children nightmares and confuse the hell out of adults. Released in 1967 by Toei Animation Company in between two rock 'em sock 'em CYBORG 009 films, JACK isn't based on a fairy tale or a popular manga or an ancient legend. It's its own thing, a bastard cross Between some whimsical Hanna Barbera TV cartoon and all the scary parts of the best Disney movies.
Directed by Japanese animation pioneer Taji Yabushita, JACK is not nearly as linear as some of his more familiar works like ALAKAZAM THE GREAT (1960) and ADVENTURES OF SINBAD (1962). However, JACK's flat character designs combined with lush, expressionistic backgrounds are proof positive of Toei's mid 60s schizoid split between wannabe Disney and wannabe UPA. Released over here by American International, this film was dubbed by Titan Productions, the outfit that handled Astro Boy, Gigantor, and many other imports. Close listeners can hear Corinne "Trixie" Orr and Billie Lou "Astro Boy" Watt voicing several different characters. Other than impacting the subconciousness of impressionable youths, this film made almost no impact on American anime fandom at large - American anime fans would obsess over early Miyazaki films and the voice talent of EIGHTH MAN, but lacking star animators or super robots, JACK AND THE WITCH spent years in obscurity, or at least a slightly higher level of obscurity than it now currently enjoys.
Our titular hero Jack is a cleft-palated young hellraiser with his own car full of animal chums. Yeah, that's it, that's all the introduction you get. As the film opens he's bombing through the house - yes, driving IN THE HOUSE - in his Model T, blissfully ignorant of things like legal driving age or roads or seat belts. Well, wouldn't you know it, after a song about how the world is a lovely place, he gets into a race with a little girl witch named Allegra who rides a chopped and channelled broomstick/helicopter. Happens all the time. Allegra offers Jack a ride on her broomstick and takes him straight to an evil castle. Don't accept rides from strangers, kids!
Turns out Allegra and her more adult witch commander-in-chief Auriana all live in the terrifying castle and their hobby is turning innocent children and woodland creatures into hideous imps of Satan. This is accomplished by means of a giant machine made up of mostly of bones. "INTO THE MACHINE!!" the imps chant as our heroes are vaccummed into its depths. "INTO THE MACHINE! INTO THE MACHINE!!" It's a rhythmic cry that scarred the memories of many a TV-watching kid. Jack escapes the harpy machine- but mouse pal Squeaker doesn't!
|INTO THE MACHINE! INTO THE MACHINE!|
|Attack Of The Mushroom People|
However, as it always happens in these movies, the witch is hoist by her own petard and both the castle and the witch are destroyed in a giant explosion. All the harpies are changed back into the little boys and girls and animals they once were, and the ruined castle changes into a beautiful forest. Allegra changes from her creepy witch look into a blonde. As the film wraps, children and animal friends ride off into the sunset in Jack's car, the end credits roll over dramatically-lit shots of actual models built of the film's characters, and early 70s children all over the world have nightmares.
|actual footage of children's nightmare|