It was only a couple months ago when a casual conversation between a two of my coworkers sparked what would eventually lead me to writing this article. I overheard a conversation (how it began I have no idea) in which one coworker, Emily, began discussing a strange movie she had recently watched thanks to a friend. I was only half-listening over the music playing through my headphones, but the second I heard the name “Ringo Starr” mentioned, my full attention was caught and I chimed in. “Excuse me? What are you talking about?”
Emily (who, by the way, is also co-host of Classy Little Podcast, on which I was interviewed earlier this year for their “Cheers to Glam Rock” episode — that’s right, shameless plug) then introduced me to the basic premise of a previously-unknown-to-me animated children’s film called The Point!, which is narrated by none other than Ringo Starr.
Now I’ve seen and/or heard of several of Ringo’s film and TV projects from The Magic Christian to Lisztomania to Caveman and of course his stint as Mr. Conductor on Shining Time Station. But this was new to me. And to top it off, as Emily informed me, the film’s soundtrack and story were written by Harry Nilsson! I’m sure there are Nilsson fans who are currently laughing at me for my ignorance, but I can honestly say other than a few of his songs, I really know nothing of his discography and I can only beg forgiveness from his fanbase. That being said, as someone who grew up a massive Beatles fan, I wonder how I had never heard of the film at all, but I’ll just place the failure on my father, who I hold responsible for my Beatles education.
Emily had me intrigued. And here we are now. Having borrowed the DVD, I endeavored to give the film a shot. The Point! is a 1971 made-for-TV animated film which first aired on ABC. Interestingly, this airing did not feature Ringo as the narrator/father, but rather Dustin Hoffman. Subsequent airings replaced Hoffman’s voiceover with that of other actors, including Alan Thicke (and later a stage adaptation starring Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz), but the home release version featured Ringo in said role, and let’s be honest, that’s the only version I would be interested in anyway.
The general plot is easy enough to explain, keeping in mind that this is a children’s film. Sidenote: the animation quality of this film is certainly nowhere near a Disney production by any means; the style reminds me of a cross between Yellow Submarine and those old Tootsie Roll Pop commericals. The framing of the movie is reminiscent of The Princess Bride, beginning with a father (Ringo) telling his son a good, old-fashioned bedtime story since he believes kids these days are too concerned with television. Remember, this is 1971. If only the father knew what was to come.
Anyway, he then begins to tell the story of a fantasy land where everything is literally pointed. Everything has a point, from buildings to plants, to art, and of course, the people. But woah now, things get shaken up when a couple have a child who, gasp!, doesn’t have a point! The child is named Oblio and other than his apparent “abnormality,” is generally beloved and grows to be a happy member of the community wearing a pointy hat to blend in.
Now, we can’t have such a happy film all around. Enter the conflict. The son of the Count, a spoiled brat if there ever was one, chooses Oblio to pick on and challenges him to a game of Triangle Toss, which seems to have all the exciting elements of such hair-raising sports as horseshoes and Ultimate Frisbee. Oblio, with the help of his trusted pointy canine Arrow, wins the match fair-and-square, so of course, the bully makes a big stink about and cries about to his father in a fashion that Draco Malfoy would find needy and desperate.
The Count, who’s nothing short of a major asshole (excuse my French), decides to use the technicalities of the pointy kingdom’s one rule, that everything has to have a point, as a device to drag Oblio, who if you’ll remember is a child, through the dirt. The Count demands that the King, who is vaguely similar in design to the Ice King from Adventure Time, put Oblio to trial and reluctantly he agrees.
As you might expect, the slimy Count declares that Oblio’s lack of a point means that he should be banished, because everything must have a point! And of course, he wins, so poor little Oblio, as well as his puppy pal, are banished. And that’s where the movie gets weird. I mean weird. Weird to the point (ha) that I don’t know how to really summarize it.
Oblio goes wandering through a place called the Pointless Forest, meeting a variety of characters including a literal Rock Man who is a hippie/beatnik fellow with a voice like Wolfman Jack, and large grape-like bouncing women who just dance and don’t speak. Throughout this journey, Oblio is constantly running into a three-headed figure who makes far too many point puns and honestly didn’t really seem to add much to the plot.
In between Oblio’s lonely journey, random sequences set to Nilsson’s music ensue, which also don’t really seem have any connection to the story. They just seem to exist for the sake of psychedelia and to use the music. I mean, one of the songs, “P.O.V Waltz,” mentions drinking in some obvious word play with the lyrics “Flyin’ high”; it seems hardly appropriate for a kids movie, but then I suppose you can make content comparisons to older Disney films like Pinocchio and Dumbo. It’s also during this sequence that the animators make a clear jab at said studio with two dancing figures who are nightmarish hybrid parodies of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Donald Duck. Frankly, it’s a little disturbing.
Somehow, despite the rather pointless second half (see what I did there), Oblio somehow realizes that even if something doesn’t physically have a point, everything has a metaphorical point. He returns triumphantly to his pointed homeland to tell the King and all the citizens what he has learned, much to the Count’s annoyance. When the Count angrily removes Oblio’s trademark hat, lo and behold, the boy now has a real point and the Count loses his, to his astonishment and embarrassment. The King is thrilled, everyone is happy, and rounded edges are no longer taboo. Hooray!
Listen, if you’re looking for a high-end film, this is certainly not it, and it’s perhaps not even a very good children’s film, but then again, look at what the ’80s did to kids movies, so what do I know. I still encourage you all to check this out. What it lacks in production quality, it makes up for in whimsy, and Oblio is pretty darn cute.
There are some valuable lessons that kids can pull from this about acceptance, celebrating diversity, and so forth. I’m sure the beholder could even mold it to fit more specific teachings on anything from disability to race, gender, and so on. It’s pretty well-rounded (ahaha) in that aspect.
Child-appropriate or not, the music is excellent; there’s a gentle dreaminess to the songs that is truly beautiful. Of course, according to Nilsson, the whole story and soundtrack were inspired by an acid trip so, you know, to each their own. One way or another, Nilsson made his point the film and album, and I hope I’ve managed to make some kind of point here. And if you’re tired of me talking about The Point! and think that the puns have overstayed their welcome, well, you just might have a point.