Bright Lights Film Journal

What’s <em>The Point</em>? The Legendary 1971 Animated Feature on DVD

In a freethinking, whimsical world, relativism reigns and there is no point … or is there?

In Fred Wolf’s ‘60s-nostalgic, yet remarkably consistent 1971 animation landmark, The Point, it is unclear at first what is in fact trying to be said. An obvious touchstone is that benchmark of filmed cult fables, Joseph Losey’s The Boy with the Green Hair (1948). Indeed, similar messages of acceptance, peace, and even governmental subversion permeate and help to constitute the point, so to speak.

The Point still manages to be unique while slogging within the double constraints of being a TV Movie and one made for kids. Adapted from a book written by Harry Nilsson and also featuring his excellent music — he was one of the few constantly interesting songwriters of the bringdown early 70’s — The Point may be that it is OK to be different. But the remarkably abrasive Skidoo, whose Nilsson soundtrack (and sung credits) is its only merit, proposed something similar. Instead of what should have been an open-minded, freewheeling romp for grown-ups, Skidoo (1968) only serves as evidence of director Otto Preminger’s pathetic attempt to hang onto his career via an update into this nightmare of acid hippy screwball comedy filmmaking featuring an aged Jackie Gleason and the intolerable Carol Channing.

There is so much honesty and brilliance, so much more going on in The Point. At the beginning of the film, a young boy is about to “turn off, read: go to bed in this modern world. His father, voiced by Ringo Starr (and in other prints, Dustin Hoffman and Alan Thicke), suggests a bedtime story rather than the lad’s usual winding down to the television creepily built into his bedside wall. As a matter of conditioning, the boy turns it on anyway, but as he becomes absorbed in the story, the television becomes expressionistically static — a mind controlling image destroyed by the power of this child’s once-latent imagination.

In the land of The Point, everything has a physical point, buildings, people, animals … well, actually the pudgy, shortened legs and massive amounts of facial hair of the citizenry, hallmarks of hippy animation both, prove to be somewhat rounded.

An artist carries a circle painting into the museum (a giant hand sign points to its entrance). The action is implied, perhaps to parallelly stimulate the viewer’s imagination, but more likely to cut animation costs. We hear cries and boos. He exits, returning later with the same painting but a triangle this time, and is met with cheers.

Oblio, a young boy unusually voiced by a young boy (Mike Lookinland who was Peter Brady) rather than the convention of using a woman, is introduced as kind, someone who “weathered life in an ordinary groove.” Oblio drives the narrative. The surrogate, though, is Arrow, who holds the majority of reaction shots — the essential piece of narrative filmmaking that promotes audience engagement via identification.

Oblio defeats an evil lord’s son in a popular game. Because, “for the sake of all decent people, measures must be taken,” he and Arrow, a “traitor and conspirator,” are banished. Morose looks from Arrow fill us with sadness as we are implicated as traitors and conspirators as well. When The Boy with the Green Hair was made, a whiff of McCarthy’s Red Scare was in the air. It is important to note that President Nixon built his reputation and career as an essential aid to this era’s witch hunt. In 1971, it was both vitally important and remarkably easy to look back and comment. In extreme close-up, a man in the court audience argues that banishing Oblio and Arrow is for the common good. “You’re just baiting me,” argues an enraged woman.

Oblio and Arrow wander sadly through the pointless forest. Unable to continue without a good cry, Oblio stops. In the most bizarre scene in a children’s movie, aside possibly from the chicken beheading scene in Mel Stuart’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory made the same year, his tears gather visual and symbolic significance, suggesting the psychedelic transformation of all mundane things ahead. A beautiful visual accompaniment to Nilsson’s poignant, elliptical “Think About Your Troubles,” the animation of the next segment is similarly amazing, adding to, feeding the tune. A trail of tears through a teacup, swirling to the ocean, which is fed to its fish, that are swallowed by a whale who dies and, “everybody knows, when a body decomposes/the basic elements are given back to the ocean (which) tastes just like a teardrop.” Disturbingly, the whale is shown rotting into the ocean. The ocean streams into the tap. The tap flows into the teapot and the teapot flows into the teacup. Point being, problems are small in an infinite, cyclical universe. Case (and ellipsis) closed.

With that utter expression completed, the journey can now begin. Oblio and Arrow encounter the uber-psychedelic and arrow-covered Pointless Man, who proclaims, “A point in every direction is the same as no point at all.” He appears throughout the journey to talk about the lack of a point in every character Oblio and Arrow encounter.

Then the pair encounter a gigantic, soulful rock-man who claims, “Ain’t necessary to possess a point to have a point.” He also says that we see only what we want, adding, “Everyone here is stone.” Indeed.

Oblio spots some gigantic, round dancing women who are certainly pointless, physically anyway. He begins here to form his perspective on the situation. Merriment, he decides, is their point.

Suddenly Oblio is carried away by a gigantic bird. In a sophisticated trick, the scene quickly shifts back to the storytelling. Now again in the bedroom, the boy’s father asks him how he knows it is such a large bird. This is when we know that the entire narrative, filmically, is controlled by this child’s imagination.

After all of these encounters, Oblio finally realizes that everyone has a point, whether it is visually apparent or not, proclaiming, “What’s in your head is more important.” The crowd cheers, the point grows on his head — diminishing some of the point, however! As a post note, Nilsson’s explained synthesis of The Point: “I was on acid and I looked at the trees and I realized that they all came to points, and the little branches came to points, and the houses came to points. I thought, ‘Oh! Everything has a point, and if it doesn’t, then there’s a point to it.'” Equality, along with an argument for the raw power of imagination, is the point, yet a strain of conformity sadly disturbs the very end of this lovely, slow-paced parable — a rarity in animation: a joy-infused film with purpose, reason for being … a point.