Saturday, 8 April 2017
The Appeal of Quincy Magoo
Mr. Magoo had remarkable staying power. During his theatrical life, he starred in TV commercials for G.E. and a couple of beer companies, as well as a public service message. In the ‘60s, he moved into TV syndication, headlined the first television cartoon Christmas special, and then appeared in series in both prime time and Saturday mornings.
After a while, the misreading-sign/mistaking-things-due-to-blurry-vision gags got really, really tiresome. But in his early theatrical days, Magoo could be entertaining. Many of the reasons are elucidated in this article in the British publication Picturegoer dated November 1, 1952. One big reason that doesn’t get mentioned, as it is focusing on art and animation technique, is the voice work of Jim Backus. Magoo is a little grumpy in the earlier cartoons, buoyant and optimistic as the ‘50s wore on.
The scan of this issue wasn’t very good, but the fuzzy cartoon frames are kind of appropriate for a guy who has trouble seeing.
MR. MAGOO Can’t be Ignored
Even without circuit support the latest cartoon character is catching on. And all because he is good at making mistakes
By ALAN BRIEN
The latest thing in screen heroes—he’s already a cult in America and must by now be blushing with the number of bouquets he’s picked up in Britain—is a dignified, jocular little man, inquisitive, far from handsome and almost fatally short-sighted.
He’s as far removed from the conventional screen idol at the Volga is from the Mississippi. His name is Mr. Magoo, and he is the drawing board creation of thirty-three year old, Canadian-born Stephen Bosustow and a steadily growing cartoon unit called United Productions of America. Though established as a top cartoon star among United States picture-goers, who have formed Magoo Clubs up and down the country, Mr. Magoo is known over here more by reputation than by acquaintance.
For the little man’s adventures—the first arrived in local cinemas about eighteen months ago—rely on bookings from independent British cinemas. There has been a West End season of Magoo films; thirty or so London and home counties cinemas have opened their projection-room doors to Mr. M.—yet the big three circuits have ignored him.
And in spite of limited distribution on this side, Columbia says that a sizeable Magoo fan mail is being received at its London office. Which rather indicates that, given wider showings, Mr. Magoo could become Britain’s pet gag of the fifties, just as the Little Audrey joke was the fashion of the thirties.
What is there about Mr. Magoo that makes him as something original and exciting, something more than a passing fancy? Well, visually he’s one-dimensional, yet he seems real—a little fellow with believable habits and tastes.
Like many active oldsters, he looks slightly ridiculous in holiday shorts, sun hat and golfing shoes. Especially when he shakes hands with a water pump and, as it creaks protestingly, mutters to his nephew, “Quaint sense of humour these mountain folks; very dry and droll” (that’s in Grizzly Golfer).
Or when he hopefully shouts, “Foot fault,” to the tennis-playing walrus in Fuddy Duddy Buddy, It is typical of his good-tempered philosophy that when he is told he has been playing with a walrus he is downcast for only a moment, then says: “A walrus, eh? Well, I like him . . . I like him.
We feel we should call him “sir” as, with homburg hat, velvet-collared coat, gouty foot and stout cane, he limps on to a swinging girder and, when he has been lowered dangerously to earth, observes to the operator: “How often have you been working a lift, son?”
His creator began cartoon-drawing in the Disney studios, was responsible for the first animations of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs and did the story of Bambi. He was unlucky in the Disney economy drive of 1941, formed United Productions of America in 1945. Then he had a staff of six; now it is a hundred plus.
He has created a new cartoon idiom, strangely enough, by being both conservative and experimental in technique. He is conservative in his return to the early Disney method of emphasizing the flat unreality of his drawings. While Disney now strives for a three-dimensional, photographic realism, Bosustow exaggerates and distorts to emphasize the comic essence of his cartoon personalities.
Mr. Magoo and his colleagues do not move in the smooth, articulated manner of live stars, as Disney characters do. They jerk and leap, as only animated drawings can. The technical difference is that Disney has one animation of each frame, Bosustow has one to every two or three frames.
Bosustow and his associates, John Hubley and Art Babbitt, have experimented and evolved a lively, modern style that makes any single frame as gay and inventive as a “New Yorker” cover. In the Oscar-winning Gerald McBoing Boing, for example, the screen is a canvas on which only the most important details are sketched, with a flowing, witty line, enriched by bold yet subtle washes of colour.
The eye is drawn by the composition of the lines and patterns, and held by the sudden blossoming of shapes in the primary colours against delicate pastel backgrounds. When this draughtsmanship is linked with the galvanic activity of the figures, the movement of the camera, an extraordinary effect is created—as though Van Gogh had got mixed up with Felix the Cat.
Apart from a number of Mr. Magoo pictures, Columbia is releasing shortly Rooty Toot Toot, a lively folk-tale based on the Frankie and Johnny ballad, which was talked about at this year’s Edinburgh’s Festival; Popcorn Story, a satirical story about the inventor of popcorn; Family Circus, the story of a little girl who is the terror of her home until her father discovers that jealousy of her baby brother is the reason for her behaviour. This line-up illustrates the point about Bosustow and U.P.A.: they have evolved a formula for animated shorts that are meant for thinking adults yet also are a great delight to the children.