I’ve been watching a lot of the original UPA cartoons lately–over and over again. It’s driving my wife bananas. (You may know UPA for Mr. Magoo. While Magoo remains their most popular work, the UPA studio was responsible for much, much more.)
I picked up the “UPA Jolly Frolics” DVD set. I suppose it’d be redundant to say I’m enjoying it. They’ve done a great job with it–the color restorations are wonderful–and these are cartoons wherein color is everything-so if the color is murky( as on the UPA cartoons you’ll find on Youtube), you’re missing half the story. It’s a joy to see them as intended.
The classic UPA cartoon that set the style for which the studio is justly revered is Gerald McBoing Boing (1950), a lovely Dr. Seuss tale directed by Bobe Cannon, animated by Bill Melendez( of A Charlie Brown Christmas fame) and beautifully designed by Bill Hurtz and the great Jules Engel. I’ve watched it over and over again and still marvel at the fluidity of its movement, the seamless transitions and the emotionally charged modernist design. Watch the scene when Gerald approaches his father in the bathroom, and dejectedly climbs the stairs. Or when he climbs out the bedroom window and chases after the train. It’s wonderful in its economy.
These qualities are repeated, with varying degrees of success, in many of the animated shorts included in this DVD. There are three more Gerald McBoing Boing cartoons, none of which repeat the magic of the first film, but which are enjoyable nonetheless. My particular favorites are John Hubley’s “Rooty Toot Toot”, “Madeline”( yes, that Madeline), “The Unicorn in the Garden” ( by way of James Thurber) and “The Tell-Tale Heart” brilliantly adapted from Poe’s famous story and featuring the paintings of Paul Julian and the voice talent of the great James Mason, whose extraordinary performance propels the narrative to its shocking climax.
I hope this little taste of UPA’s animated magic will send you to the DVD store or elsewhere to pick up the UPA Jolly Frolics collection. Classic Animation from the 1950’s with an eye to modernist graphic design.