Bil Baird’s Marionettes make an unlikely return to the screen in “Davy Jones’ Locker,” a very brief, decent-hearted musical, the style of which flies defiantly in the face of current fashion and tastes. Aimed squarely at the very youngest filmgoers, pic could make a teeny dent as a matinee item for tots with attention spans too short for conventional-length features, which is the way it is being shown at its weeklong premiere engagement in Santa Monica. But any real future lies in video and TV.
In this age of dazzling computer animation and morphing special effects, the Baird marionettes, with their big blinking eyes, rosy red cheeks, mop hair, fixed-position hands and myriad black strings controlling their movements, scarcely could look more old-fashioned. Quaint look could ring a nostalgic bell with some older parents and not matter much to the teeniest tykes, but most modern kids would no doubt find this little adventure fantasy hopelessly square and low-tech.
The Children’s Video Theater production is framed as an actual stage piece, with the camera moving in on a proscenium to focus upon young Joey, a dreamer whose out-of-work dad asks him to mail a sweepstakes entry bearing a map to hidden underwater treasure.
When Joey takes a tumble, he lands on board a pirate ship commanded by Capt. Barnacle, who promptly sends Joey to the bottom in search of the treasure. On the ocean floor, the lad encounters old Davy Jones and his crew of ghouls, who sing some ditties, repeatedly send Davy back up to the boat with books rather than loot but finally supply him with the gold necessary to placate the ornery captain. Wrap-around sees Joey’s family, “Wizard of Oz” style, hovering over him when he awakes from his dream.
The main themes struck by the writers are the value of books and the reminder that, “Rich won’t make you happy, but happy will make you rich.” The songs are agreeable enough but of a type that easily could have been written decades ago, which could also describe the tenor of the entire venture.