Jack and the Beanstalk - Gisaburo Sugii

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Jack to Mame no Ki

Japanese release: July 20, 1974

Days since Japanese release: {DAYSSINCE()} 1974-07-20 {DAYSSINCE}

US release: February 13, 1976

Days since US release: {DAYSSINCE()} 1976-02-13 {DAYSSINCE}

Produced by Group TAC for Nippon Herald Films

Director: Gisaburo Sugii

English Cast

||Jack| Billie Lou Watt

Crosby/Tulip| Jack Grimes

Margaret/Hecuba| Corinne Orr||

IMDB entry

Meaning to me

This is a movie I find it hard to write about, for fear of putting it wrong.  We all have things from our youth that may seem of great importance and influence due to random chance and intangibles.  For me, Jack and the Beanstalk is this way.  It's as if it's one of the most important movies in the world... but only in my pocket reality.  How do I give proper deference to it while trying to explain to friends why it matters to me without sounding religious?

Trying to look at it from an outside modern perspective, Jack and the Beanstalk doesn't seem all that different from a formula Disney movie other than a lower budget.  It takes a well-known classic (public domain) fairy tale that could be told in a few minutes, and embellishes it with its own characters, situations, and even songs.

Why is it more to me?  I think it just somehow hit the perfect note of wonder and adventure, silliness and twistedness, happiness and melancholy, to convince my young mind to make it the standard by which I judge other fantasies.

I also had a crush on Princess Margaret... though now she appears to be some sort of onionhead Elijah Wood.

Story

Spoilers follow.  You've been warned.

In an opening sequence, Jack and his dog Crosby start another new day on the farm.  When their cow doesn't give milk, he's sent off to sell it.  Meeting a strange man who knows too much, Jack trades it for magic beans, which of course grow into a giant beanstalk... but this time with catchy music and great animation of the bulging and twisting plant.

The standard telling of this story has Jack going up the beanstalk to find a place where a giant lives, with usually little further backstory.  In this version, it's not just a giant up there.  In fact, there used to be a prosperous kingdom in the clouds, until the witch Hecuba and her son the giant Tulip came around.  They killed the king and queen, turned most of the people in the kingdom into mice, and have brainwashed/drugged Princess Margaret.  For whatever reason becoming legitimate rulers of the kingdom matters, for they intend for Tulip to marry Margaret to seal things.  In Margaret's drugged state, she loves Hecuba for being there was a substitute parent, and can't wait to marry Tulip.  The exception being that when she sleeps, she has nightmares about the truth.

In this version, Jack's initial trip up the beanstalk is because he and Crosby are following a strange little mouse in a dress who's climbed down.  When they reach the top the first person Jack meets is Margaret, who is literally floating on clouds and singing about how "no one's happier than I" about her upcoming marriage, which is sweet and creepy from different angles.

In the rest of this first trip up the beanstalk, Jack meets the others, escapes Hecuba's attempt to keep him as meal for the wedding, then sneaks around.  He steals the hen that lays golden eggs along with other treasure, learns the truth of the situation from Margaret talking in her sleep, and gets out of town.  He and his mom are hyped up about their new wealth, but Crosby... not so much.  In one of the weirder scenes even for this movie, while he doesn't think he's being watched he sings a sad song to the moon... and he's not usually a talking dog.  In this way Crosby convinces Jack that it's not cool to leave the situation up in the clouds the way things are, while they could instead be trying to help Margaret and the mice (particularly the one in a dress he likes).

Hecuba is running a wedding using enchanted paper cutouts as the guests and surrogate priest of the wedding between Margaret and Tulip, when Jack busts in and breaks the spell on Margaret with a kiss.  This is followed with a great sequence of Jack and Margaret trying to escape a furious Tulip, who's destroying the castle in his attempts to catch them as a pretty non-lyrical version of "No One's Happier than I" plays in the background.  Though he eventually corners them, the irritating commanding and controlling of his mother finally gets to him, and he stomps her first instead.

The death of Hecuba causes the transformations that have happened to the kingdom to reverse in yet another scene that's a fun match of visual and audio.  Jack and Margaret are sweet for each other, and Jack wants her to come back with him to the bottom of the beanstalk.  However, she realizes that as the surviving royalty she can't just run off.  Even with the mice back as humans and the witch gone, though, there's still a pissed off giant to deal with.

In a very silly scene Jack and Crosby use "cartoony" tricks to get Tulip to hurt himself, mostly by smashing into things.  Eventually the giant follows them down the beanstalk.  Jack and Crosby don't want to cut themselves off from the kingdom in the sky or their new loved ones, but Jack realizes there's no choice and chops the stalk down.

The movie ends much as it begins, with Jack and Crosby enjoying their regular farm lives, though now with heavier hearts.

Music

I really like most of the music in this movie.  When it needs to be, it can be pretty, creepy, or just funky.  The bits where Jack sings... not so much.

Influence on me

Though most of the movie doesn't have the typical anime look, this is probably one of the earliest examples of me falling for a Japanese show.

More specifically, I continue to enjoy tales that come from a similar cloth.  I continue to be a sucker for the combination of the innocence of the young, grand adventure, and fantastical settings.  I also enjoy a good wistful ending.  Somehow if things don't end perfectly everything just seems more meaningful.

Even more specifically, there are fellow anime movies Metropolis and Laputa: Castle in the Sky.  I saw them in 2003 and early 2006, respectively, and really loved them.  After the fact I realized they had a number of similarities.  It wasn't until watching Jack and the Beanstalk again in later 2006 that I realized how similar all three were.  Pointing out specific similarities is somewhat spoiler territory, but you've now been warned.  All three deal with fairly average young boys accidentally getting mixed into a big adventure, involving a young girl they become close to who has some sort of power the Bad Guy wants to use her for.  Even more, Laputa has a castle in the sky; it's right in the title.  Though Metropolis doesn't have that, part of it involves a very large building that might as well reach the sky.  Though all three have largely positive resolutions, they also end with some sense of loss.

Did it really influence me in these ways, or was it just the first to tickle these existing fancies?  *shrug*