Willy McBean and His Magic Machine (1965)


Japan/USA. 1965.


Director/Screenplay/Producer – Arthur Rankin Jr, Additional Material Written by Lon Korobkin, Music – Edward Thomas, Songs – Edward Thomas, Gene Farrell & James Polack, Animation Supervisor – Tad Moohinga. Production Company – Videocraft International/Dentsu


Billie Richards (Willy McBean), Larry Mann (Professor Rasputin Von Rotten), Alfie Scopp, Paul Kligman, Bunny Cowan, Paul Soles, Peggi Loder, Claude Ray, Corinne Connely, James Doohan


Professor Rasputin Von Rotten is insanely jealous over the fact that his name is not in history books. He builds a time-belt with which he plans to travel back in time and change history, with the intention of beating Buffalo Bill Cody in a gunfight, discovering the New World before Christopher Columbus, pulling Excalibur from the stone before King Arthur, redesigning the Sphinx with his own face, and discovering fire and the wheel first. However, his pet monkey Pablo escapes with the plans and convinces schoolboy Willy McBean to build a time-belt of his own to go back and stop Von Rotten.

This Japanese puppet-animated feature is a film of light but undeniable charm. One might get picky about its prehistoric anthropology, some of the time travel logic or the fact that Tutankhamun did not actually build any pyramids but it proves much too disarming for one to want to launch into historical pedant mode. At least, the Buffalo Bill and Columbus segments show that someone has done a moderate amount of reading on their historical dates. The score in particular jumps in with some lively songs at every opportunity. The animation with its patchwork dinosaurs, bouncing dragons and cheerful Hispanic monkeys, which all come amid some enchantingly scaled miniature sets, is most appealing.

Despite having credits that list all American names, Willy McBean and His Magic Machine was in fact a Japanese production. It was merely picked up for distribution by Arthur Rankin Jr who typically wrote his own name and those of his collaborators all over the credits to give the impression that he had made the film. The names of the original creative personnel are regrettably not a matter of record. Subsequently, Rankin and business partner Jules Bass would go onto make a whole series of stop-motion animated films, including Mad Monster Party? (1967), the various Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer tv specials, the tv animated version of The Hobbit (1977), The Flight of Dragons (1982) and the excellent and underrated The Last Unicorn (1982).

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