Produced and Directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr.
Music Directed by Maury Laws
Animated by Toei Animation
November 23, 1968
Main Cast Voices
- Tennessee Ernie Ford-Narrator, Willum Mouse, Esq.
- Eddie Albert-Captain Standish
- John Gary-John Alden
- Joanie Sommers-Priscilla Mullins
- Paul Frees
- June Foray
Told from the point of view of a church mouse named Willum, this television special chronicles the Pilgrim’s trek across the ocean to their arrival at Plymouth Rock and the first Thanksgiving in New England.
The Mouse on the Mayflower is from a simpler time when networks broadcast holiday specials of all kinds from the first day of October to New Year’s Eve. You could usually find a themed television episode or quite possibly between 8 and 9 in the evening one or two one off programs such as this. They were light and superficial fluff meant to put you in the mood for whatever holiday was upcoming. Enter this Rankin/Bass Production of The Mouse on the Mayflower during the Thanksgiving of 1968.
It is a simple enough story since this was aimed at children during the family viewing hour. There were no complicated plotlines. Here they celebrate the Pilgrim’s journey to New England as well as the individual historical figures with a few kid friendly additions to make it go down easy for the tots. There is no attempt at revisionism or talking down of the historical events or those involved. And that is probably what makes it stick out in this day and age for me as I think back. Back then you embraced the holiday and celebrated it. The specials of this era tended to place things in a positive light, and this one is no different.
This was perhaps my first exposure to the history of the Pilgrims and their dangerous trip. I was but a babe in diapers so you should probably forgive me on that. I was aware enough though to know there were no talking church mice and even as a child I doubted there was an individual named Smiling Buzzard among the tribe that greeted the Pilgrims but it did in broad strokes inform me of the events. And it was entertaining. From that perspective it accomplished a lot as not only a holiday special but as a work of educational programming in my adult opinion.
There is one bit of actual history presented here but the specifics are a bit lost to time. A beam on the Mayflower did indeed break and a large screw was indeed used to prop it up in a manner much like what was displayed in the special (though no villains were involved in the break). Whether or not it was the printing press in the possession of the Pilgrims that was used or some type of construction equipment they had along is where the dispute lays.
The songs are not terrible nor are they cloying as the hastily crafted songs of holiday shows can be. They are pleasant melodies wrapped in an entertaining if simplistic script. But as said earlier, the script does not need to be away sophisticated. This special was made to celebrate the holiday. They Disneyfied the story if you will. And that is okay. It makes for a fun adventure for the whole family.
The villains of the story (if you call them that) were not much in the way of villains and probably could have been left out. As a child I thought they got what they deserved by being chased off. As an adult I realize that the banishment was practically a death sentence at least for the non-native villains. There is no way they would survive in New England among the tribes.
The animation is not bad, but it doesn’t stand up in comparison to some of the later Rankin/Bass specials. It is no Frosty the Snowman or the ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, but it is not completely terrible. It is solid enough and looks good.
The Mouse on the Mayflower is an entertaining slice of Thanksgiving off. It is from a simpler time of holiday specials and when viewed can easily become a tradition. Sadly this has only received a VHS tape release and as of this writing there are no plans I am aware of to release The Mouse on the Mayflower on DVD or any other format so the link below is the only option to view it. Watch it!