About three months ago, inspired by screenshots posted at Amid Amidi’s eye-opening Cartoon Modern blog, I ordered the brand new DVD of UPA’s Gerald McBoing Boing. It features four of the finest-looking animated shorts ever produced, back from a time when the whole idea of limited animation was considered an artistic vision, rather than a cheap and easy way to increase productivity.
From a ’50s design standpoint, these cartoons are astonishing. Director Robert “Bobe” Cannon had a very Tati-esque sense of environment and mise-en-scène that makes every frame a joy to behold. McBoing Boing‘s use of minimal shapes, jazzy movements and shifting color schemes, coupled with its sheer unwillingness to conform to the laws of reality (perspective, gravity, naturalistic detail, any logic at all) made it a radical departure from the painstaking realism that Walt Disney championed at the time.
No wonder, since UPA was founded by John Hubley–a former-Disney animator who, along with a number of others who left Disney after the animators’ strike in 1941, felt that the medium of animation had been forced down a narrow path by simply trying to imitate reality. Anyone of you who’s ever read my article on “the plausibles” will know how much I believe this observation applies to cinema in general.
I’m not sure how many of you have childhood memories of characters like Gerald or Christopher Crumpet, but the work of UPA is hardly known in Europe. Overshadowed as it currently is by the immensely popular cartoon libraries of Disney, Warner Brothers, Hanna-Barbera and MGM, one can only hope that the rest of these forgotten gems will find their way on a DVD collection soon.
In the meantime, some of UPA’s best shorts can be found on YouTube. For your convenience, I collected some of them on one page. Let’s start with a taste of Gerald McBoing Boing right here: