Tuesday, 5 June 2018

The Critics Have Enough

The critics doted on Mr Magoo. They loved Gerald McBoing Boing. All hail UPA, they said.

That was in the early ‘50s. By the late ‘50s, they had enough.

Here’s a review from the magazine of the British Film Institute from 1959:
HAM AND HATTIE No. 2 (Sailing and Village Band), U.S.A., 1958
Straining to be original, UPA cartoons are in danger of toppling into preciosity. The first part of this cartoon deals with Hattie, a small girl sailing her toy boat on a pond to the accompaniment of a simple song. The drawings are simple to match, so simple that they often become dull. The second section tells the story of Ham, who, with his dog, his cat, and his bird, provides his English village with a brass band to welcome a visiting dignitary. Although the mood is, if anything, more fey than in the first half, the drawings of the flag-decorated streets are delightful. Nevertheless, the freshness and spontaneity of previous UPA work is missing; the result is forced and outré.
UPA became all about artwork. Still artwork. There was not a lot of movement in Village Band and some of it was reused. Here are the streets the author referred to. Compare these first two drawings (granted they’re not in register).

The train animation gets reused. So does the drawing below. The train station is on an overlay, the foreground characters and characters behind the station are on separate cels.

See the townsfolk on the left? This is the first of three held drawings of them. They move less than Bullwinkle moose. Come to think of it, that green cat is from a Fractured Fairy Tale, isn't it?

Fred Crippin directed this short with designs by Jimmy Murakami, and a “color” credit to Jules Engel and Jack Heiter. Only two more Ham and Hatties were made. UPA lost its distribution deal with Columbia in 1959 then tried to peddle some Magoos on its own until the studio was bought in 1960.


  1. Fred Crippin created roger ramjet RIP (1928-2018)

  2. Not every UPA short of the time got a thumb's down. Possibly the same critic found "Magoo's Cruise" suspenseful and funny. It's easy to find out who directed it, but some will be surprised.

  3. The thing here was the UPA took the type of segments that had failed to enthrall mid-1950s TV viewers on "The Gerald McBoing Boing Show" and instead of going in a different direction, simply opted to shift them over to theatrical release (presumably based on the hope that movie-going audiences would have more cultured tastes for fey shorts than CBS' viewers did).

    And it wasn't as though UPA didn't have people who could make their collective drawing style funny, as Bill Scott and others would prove with Rocky & Bullwinkle -- it was simply a collective decision to take what didn't work on TV and show it wouldn't work in the theaters (and it is noteworthy that the reviewer here is both spot-on with UPA's problem, and also not an American reviewer -- U.S. audiences continued to hear praises sung for the studio's work, right up until Columbia was releasing Loopy de Loop shorts to theaters and Henry Saperstein was turning Magoo into made-for-TV kids fodder).

  4. There's another factor to consider in the studio's critical downfall - When UPA's shorts first hit the screens, there was nothing else like them; They were (rightfully) seen as fresh and revolutionary. Fast-forward to the end of the decade, and the UPA "style" had been co-opted by virtually all the studios to some degree - Just about EVERY cartoon and TV commercial now had those stylized, flat graphics. With that signature visual look now widespread, its little wonder that the cognoscenti were asking, "What else you got?".