Saturday, 5 September 2015

Bosustow as Disney

In attempting not to be Walt Disney, Steve Bosustow became Roy Disney instead.

Walt was the creative guy, involving himself in the writing and animating of the cartoons his company made. Roy was the behind-the-scenes guy, making the deals to keep the money flowing so the cartoons could be made. That’s more or less the role that Bosustow ended up playing in his company he co-founded, UPA.

Furthermore, he was the opposite of Walt in that he doesn’t seem to have played any creative role in his studio’s output. Indeed, when you think of the people responsible for UPA cartoons, you think of John Hubley, Bobe Cannon and maybe Pete Burness. The reason why is buried in the final paragraph on an article on the studio published by the Brooklyn Eagle on June 7, 1953.

The Eagle was a little late to the game. Bosley Crowther had filled a magazine feature column in the New York Times the previous December about the wonders of UPA. Other critical praises poured in in the wake of the success of Gerald McBoing-Boing, released in late 1950. By April 1951, it had raked in $100,000 in rentals (and cost $30,000 to make, said Variety on April 25, 1951) and won the Oscar for Best Animated Short. UPA resisted any attempts to make McBoing-Boing a series, instead satisfying exhibitors with Mr. Magoo.

‘Gerald McBoing’ Creators Hold a Cartoon Preview

Several years ago a new group of animated-cartoonists introduced fresh air into the animated cartoon field with their imaginative, impressionistic “Gerald McBoing-Boing.”
To those who thought that Walt Disney was more or less repeating himself, U. P. A.—the United Production of America—had picked up where the old master had become a victim of his own cliches.
Last week, U. P. A. showed a sample of their latest work, four cartoons, all original and mature. One was in the Magoo series—the near-sighted little man who is always getting into situations on account of his near-blindness. Another was about a willful brat who turns literally into a chicken when he can't get his way.
The other two were based on two widely contrasted short stories — Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart” and James Thurber’s “The Unicorn in the Garden. “The Tell Tale Heart” is the first cartoon short to deal with a somber, serious subject such as a psychological horror story. To get the proper ghoulish effect, the animators have drawn characters and settings reminiscent of Charles Addams’ macabre work.
In adapting the Thurber story, the U. P. A. cartoonists drew light and gay people and scenes in a style almost exactly like Thurber’s. In fact, the Thurber downtrodden male and predatory female could hardly be distinguished from the characters drawn in “The Unicorn in the Garden.”
U. P. A., which was organized five years ago, first came into prominence in 1950 when it produced “Gerald McBoing-Boing,” the cartoon about the little boy who became famous for speaking sound effects rather than words.
Its next important production was “Rooty Toot Toot,” an adaptation of the Frankie and Johnny legend, where for the first time an animated cartoon dealt with such heretofore taboo subjects as sex, lust and murder.
Another milestone was their adaptation of Ludwig Bemelmans’ “Madeline,” the story of the 12 Parisian schoolgirls who do everything, as if they were one. When one comes down with appendicitis, the others all want it also, so that they all can continue, to lead identical lives.
Here, for the first time, the animators consciously imitated a writer-artist’s style, so that the cartoon looked as if it had actually been drawn by Bemelmans in his own unique manner. The success they had with “Madeline” led them to try the same thing with Thurber in “The Unicorn in the Garden.”
The man behind U. P. A. is Stephen Bosustow, a 41-year-old artist, born in Victoria, British Columbia. He won his first prize in a school art contest when he was 11.
He began his “animated” career as a painter with a small company and worked up to a job under Ub Iwerks on M-G-M’s “Flip the Frog” series. Later, he worked for Walter Lantz at Universal and spent seven years at the Disney studios, where he became a writer and story sketcher, working on the first animation of “Snow White” and doing much of the story on “Bambi” and “Fantasia.”
When he left Disney in 1941, he became a production illustrator for Hughes Aircraft, turning out illustrations for work guides for personnel who were unfamiliar with blueprints.
After producing slide films for a shipyard, Bosustow formed the Industrial Films and Poster Service, which made animated films for the armed services, Government departments and business firms.
In 1945 he founded U. P. A. with a staff of six and continued to make animated training films for the armed services and numerous business organizations. In 1948, Bosustow’s studio made a deal by which Columbia agreed to distribute U. P. A.’s entertainment products. With an assured outlet, U. P. A. began to produce the cartoon shorts that have made it famous.
Much of U. P. A.’s success from Bosustow’s policy of allowing great freedom of creative expression, which has drawn to the studio many of the leading animation artists. Those in charge of the company’s units have complete freedom to experiment with and develop new techniques.

Unfortunately, all that creative freedom turned out to bite the studio. After the initial praise from critics as tired of Disney and Bugs Bunny as the UPA artists were, everyone went back to not caring about theatrical cartoons. Bosustow agreed with Warners’ Ed Selzer who told the Motion Picture Herald that exhibitors were only interested in a saleable name and doubted they ever looked at the cartoons. Aside from their creators, UPA’s experiments in art and design appealed to few. They ate up all the money the studio made on Magoos and TV commercials. The prime-time Boing Boing Show on CBS went alarmingly over budget and was too precious to keep the interest of kids who, the ratings kept showing, wanted Bugs Bunny. Within a few years Bosustow was bought out and shoved aside. In a perverse and unfortunate way, he really did succeed in not being Walt Disney.

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