Thursday, 14 June 2012


There have been few posts here about specific UPA cartoons, despite the recent DVD release of the Jolly Frolics cartoons. The reason is because Michael Sporn has been doing a tremendous job analysing them on his blog. He’s put in a lot of effort and it’s worth looking at his examples and reading what he has to say. Check out posts on “Rooty Toot Toot” HERE and HERE, “The Magic Fluke” HERE, “Georgie and the Dragon” HERE “The Tell Tale Heart” HERE and “The Man on the Flying Trapeze” HERE and HERE.

Michael’s work doesn’t leave much for me to offer. He can show you the cartoons from the point of view of an artist who understands the various facets of how they’re put together. About all I can do is make casual remarks as the presumed audience for the cartoons, though I keep getting the nagging impression that, eventually, UPA’s theatrical cartoons weren’t made for any viewer. They strike me as seven minutes of self-indulgence, allowing UPA staff members to tell each other what ground-breaking Artists (with a capital A) they were.

I can appreciate whimsy and charm as much as anyone. Perhaps one or both is what Bobe Cannon was going for when he crafted “Ballet-Oop” for UPA in 1954. But the end result is neither. It’s just boring.

Conflict? It’s been said Cannon hated it. But stories need conflict. Not only is there no conflict, there isn’t even a sense of urgency in a battle with the clock to get the kids ready for the ballet. Nothing builds. It just happens.

The first half of the cartoon is a bunch of drawings of ballet moves, mainly feet. The second half is a ballet itself, called “The Apple Blossom and the Grasshopper” which is narrated by a cartoon character in the crowd so we can understand what we’re seeing on the screen. Sounds like that dreaded illustrated radio to me.

Ground-breaking? The studio had already made its own clichés by the time this short was out. It’s full of more spaghetti-limbed humans, like you saw in “Gerald McBoing Boing.”

If the studio could use wallpaper to indicate walls in the background, why not use a picture of someone’s hardwood floor to indicate a floor?

And if backgrounds dissolving around characters and characters dissolving around background worked in “Gerald McBoing Boing,” why not try it again? The background has just disappeared for awhile here and we get a black card. Interesting, Cannon staged part of the “Eep-Op-Ork” number on ‘The Jetsons’ at Hanna-Barbera with characters (and letters-as-characters) over a black card.

A jealous bee pounds her (it’s an all-female ballet) rear into a butterfly, who falls down. There are little sparkles. Such violence! Such animosity! Where’s the Television Action Council when you need it?

A curtain lifts on the ballet. I don’t know what effect Cannon and T. Hee were going for here.

Jules Engel was in charge of the colour selection in the cartoon, while the credited animators are Bill Melendez, Frank Smith and Tom McDonald.


  1. Bill must have been just as dissatisfied as you, becuase this was the last thing he did at UPA before striking out on his own.

    1. I was thinking of that myself with that animator, I guess there's so much you could take before you call it quits.

  2. When some individual or group has the support of other key arbiters of taste and style, things can get done in the popular arts that, in the end, aren't really all that popular. UPA's output for entertainment value in the mid-1950s had fallen to roughly the level of your average Paul J. Smith Lantz cartoon, but it didn't matter to those who were bothering to report on theatrical short-subject animation at all; it was just a given that any UPA effort had greater worth than any other studio's efforts.

    When the critics refuse to be critical, anything is possible. UPA's staff was probably shocked after half a decade of adulation when their films were tested before a measurable mass audience for the first time and CBS found "The Gerald McBoing Boing Show" to be an acquired taste that few acquired (which you would think would have told the studio something, but judging from the last three years of UPA's non-Magoo output, the lesson was the public has no taste in cartoons).