The Point, ABC Movie of the Week’s Only Animated Edition, Is a Trippy Gem

Movies Features Harry Nilsson
The Point, ABC Movie of the Week’s Only Animated Edition, Is a Trippy Gem

From 1969 to 1975, ABC put out weekly films. They functioned as TV pilots, testing grounds for up-and-coming filmmakers, and places for new and old stars to shine. Every month, Chloe Walker revisits one of these movies. This is Movie of the Week (of the Month).

The Night Stalker, The Screaming Woman, A Taste of Evil, Runaway!, Snatched, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Dying Room Only… if the ABC Movie of the Week had a sweet spot, it was undeniably the dark and sleazy realm of horrors and thrillers. Despite that, across the 254 editions, the slot would feature films of almost every genre–westerns and sci-fi, rom-coms and war, superhero, documentary and sports. Once, early on in the run, it even ventured into the colorful world of animation.

1971’s The Point was an adaptation of a Harry Nilsson concept album released the previous year, which was inspired by an acid trip: ‘“I was on acid and I looked at the trees and I realized that they all came to points, and the 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.’” 

For the MOTW, Nilsson translated this drug-induced epiphany into a fable told by a father to a son (who, at the beginning of the film at least, would really rather be watching TV):

“Once upon a time, a long way from here and a long way from now, there was a tiny village where everything–the houses and the carts, the bridges and the barns–all had points on them. In fact, it was so full of points that even the people had points!”

These inhabitants of the Pointed Village, who look something like garden gnomes that have been entirely painted orange, are shocked at the birth of the round-headed Oblio. Still, his mom makes him his own cone hat in an attempt to minimize the difference, and he lives happily, liked by everyone and adored by his incredibly pointy blue dog Arrow. 

One day, however, when Oblio and Arrow reign victorious in a game of “triangle toss,” a vanquished competitor complains to his powerful father, who conspires to have the two deported from their home (Oblio’s round-headedness being technically against the law in the Pointed Village). Exiled to the Pointless Forest, the duo meet a whole host of unusual characters, and learn that in reality, everyone and everything has a point–even if it doesn’t seem like it.

Although the film was well-liked upon its original airing, there were scattered complaints that the story was too thin to fill the runtime; the Associated Press posited there was “about an hour more than needed” (which would have left the MOTW running just 14 minutes long). While it’s not hard to see how the frequent repetition of the message of acceptance, the gentle pacing, and the regular song breaks for Nilsson classics like “Me and My Arrow” and “Are You Sleeping?” could have exacerbated that impatient sentiment, to suggest such a brutally pragmatic cut is also to miss the… you know… of the story–everything has a point! And that point can just be pure enjoyment.

There’s a wealth of treats to enjoy in this vibrant, trippy, sweet-natured creation, brought to life so characterfully by Oscar-winning animator Fred Wolf. By its very nature, this is a “the journey is the destination” movie (at times it plays out like a supremely ‘70s take on Alice in Wonderland). All the little tangents and visual grace notes–the joke-filled opening montage that establishes just how pointy this world is, the facial hair of the Pointed Village citizens, the enviably cool Rock Man, Arrow’s frequent mugging to camera, this wildly misproportioned baby bird–are what make it so special.

The dialogue moseys along just as delightfully as the action (Oblio to the aforementioned baby bird: “Well what happened is, you just got hatched. You’re born now–but don’t worry, it happens to everybody!”) and the narration is its own aural feast. Though the original broadcast featured Dustin Hoffman as the father, who functions as the story’s narrator, he only agreed for his voice to be featured on that first airing. While Alan Barzman and Alan Thicke each had a turn afterward, if you watch The Point today you’ll likely be treated to the dulcet tones of Ringo Starr, one of Nilsson’s best friends, whose narration accompanied the home entertainment release. Starr’s gentle Liverpudlian lilt suits the meandering material down to a tee, and somehow adds even more charm to a movie that positively overflows with it. 

The Point marked one of his only two feature writing credits, but Nilsson’s music was a mainstay of the movies for much of his career, from his recording of “Everybody’s Talkin’” for Midnight Cowboy (one of his few megahits that he didn’t actually write), to his score for the lesser-loved 1980 Altman movie Popeye, to the string of classics–Goodfellas, Magnolia, The Fisher King, Reservoir Dogs, All That Jazz, Casino, You’ve Got Mail–that prominently feature his songs on their soundtrack. The combination of his creatively lyrical storytelling and emotional, octave-spanning range made him a natural voice for cinema, and The Point captures him in all his iconoclastic glory. 

Much as Nilsson’s songs have continued to find their way onto movie soundtracks long after his death, his MOTW has continued to amble its way into people’s hearts far beyond that original 1971 airing. You can see The Point’s influence on anything from The Princess Bride’s framing device (Ringo Starr’s dorky dad is almost as lovable as Peter Falk’s grandpa) to Adventure Time’s grand nemesis (more than one person has noticed how closely the Ice King resembles The Point’s monarch). There have been more explicit references on The Simpsons and, as recently as 2021, the short-lived Apple TV+ show Mr. Corman had Joseph Gordon Levitt dress (rather half-heartedly…) as Arrow for Halloween.  

Back in 1971, the week after The Point’s first airing, the ABC MOTW returned to traditional territory with the Ryan O’Neal-starring stalker thriller Love Hate Love. In the four seasons that followed, the slot would never again feature another animation. And really, who can blame them? To try and better the extraordinary journey of Oblio and Arrow… well, wouldn’t that have been kind of pointless?

Chloe Walker is a writer based in the UK. You can read her work at Culturefly, the BFI, Podcast Review, and Paste.

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