One of many foreign animated films retooled for US release during the ’70s, a period when original feature-length cartoons were a rarity for American movie companies, The World of Hans Christian Andersen betrays surprisingly few trades of its Japanese roots. Only the big doe eyes of the animals and children are obvious giveaways. Otherwise, the picture feels European, seeing as how the storyline is set in Andersen’s native Copenhagen. The picture’s fantastical imagery stems from stories Andersen wrote in the 19th century. Featured concepts include the Little Match Girl and Thumbelina, though the dominant magical character is Uncle Oley, who serves as a sort of ambassador to the land of imagination. Andersen himself is featured as a character, though he’s depicted as a young boy experiencing wondrous events that will inspire the stories he tells in later life. As for the plot, it’s mostly a trifle used to bind sentimental episodes. Embedded within the material is a certain grimness, given that young Hans and the girl next door, Elisa, both watch their impoverished parents and/or guardians receive economic abuse from wealthy people.
As for the overall mawkishness, singling out The World of Hans Christian Andersen for special criticism isn’t really fair, because there was a lot of awful children’s entertainment in the ’70s. What’s more, most repurposed foreign cartoons of the period reflect the worst instincts of Hollywood storytellers. Better, therefore, to say that The World of Hans Christian Andersen is generically shabby—most contemporary adults would find the movie intolerable, and it’s a fair bet many contemporary kids would, as well. It’s all just too cutesy and dull and familiar. A magical savior flying into town using an umbrella for a parachute? Shades of Julie Andrews. A cat causing a ruckus at a formal event by chasing mischievous mice? Yawn. And those gee-whiz line readings by Chuck McCann, who codirected the American version in addition to voicing Uncle Oley? One line of dialogue, cooed to the Andersen character, should give you an idea of what to expect: “Let the children fly on your wonderful wings of happiness!” Nonetheless, it’s hard to get too upset about a project that, on some level, means well. The World of Hans Christian Andersen celebrates imagination and expresses kindhearted principles. So let’s leave it at that.
The World of Hans Christian Andersen: FUNKY