Saturday 5 December 2020

Cartoon Cadborosaurus

For a brief time, UPA was the film critics’ darling.

No uber-cute woodland creatures would be found in its cartoons. Yeah, critics loved singing butterflies at one time, but it was now 1950. It was time for something new, something different looking, something with humour that mirrored real-life adult sensibilities.

UPA did that. The critics cheered. Then they moved on to something else.

In a way, the studio had a split personality. On one hand, it was stuck with the Mr. Magoo series because Columbia Pictures was pretty much bankrolling operations and that’s what it wanted. Magoo turned into formula over time (the blind guy can’t read a sign properly) and the only real amusement was provided by Jim Backus’ funny voice. The non-Magoo cartoons got more and more artsy and self-indulgent. Attempts at being droll or wry resulted in blank stares.

Columbia gave up on the studio after deciding it would put its animation chips on the newly-formed Hanna-Barbera Enterprises. Pretty soon, UPA was sold and company boss Steve Bosustow was forced out.

Bosustow and his animation directors had all kinds of ideas for feature films reported in the trade press. The only one that got made starred Magoo. Bosustow was from Victoria, B.C., and had some British Columbia settings for films that never got made. There was also a proposal for a topic that was contradictory for UPA to say the least. The studio deliberately avoided slapstick violence in its cartoons (ie. the gags in virtually any Bugs Bunny or Woody Woodpecker short), but it considered a feature on slapstick itself.

Here’s a story from the Vancouver Sun of February 28, 1953. Incidentally, if you want an excellent overview of UPA, get a copy of When Magoo Flew by Adam Abraham.

B.C.'s Caddy May Break Into Films
It's one of ideas in mind of Victoria-born Steve Bosustow

(Sun Hollywood Correspondent)
WALT Disney is going to get some competition this year from Canadian cartoon creator Stephen Bosustow. The Victoria-born producer has just completed plans for a feature film combining live actors and cartoon characters, the first full-length, picture of this type to be produced outside the Disney plant.
"Slapstick" will tell the history of this kind of comedy by means of a story about a couple of comedians who are offered work by a cartoon studio. When they learn that the company is interested only in their voices, they are disappointed, but go along with the idea after meeting the many studio workers who will bring the animated characters to life, vocally and visibly. This evolves into a behind the-scenes explanation of animated cartoon production. The two comics, in turn, tell secrets of the ancient art of slapstick.
Most of Bosustow's movies are double-barreled appealing to both children and adults, and educating as well as entertaining.
He is perhaps most famous for his production of "Gerald McBoing-Boing," a delightful cartoon that, deserved the wide recognition it received in 1950, including a Hollywood Oscar and a London Henrietta. He followed it with "Rooty Toot Toot," a completely sophisticated cartoon based on the old song, "Frankie and Johnny," but bearing little real resemblance to the thoughts contained in its words. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 1951.
Last year, Steve's company, United Productions of America, created the cartoon sequences which tied the different phases of "The Four Poster" together. "When Stanley Kramer began production of this picture, with only Lilli Palmer and Rex Harrison in the cast," Bosustow relates, "he was worried about the audience growing restless of scenes limited to the single bedroom set, as they were in the stage play. When I heard he was thinking of using puppets to illustrate what was happening when the couple was not in the bedroom, I suggested cartoons. I'd always felt that any motion picture problem could be solved through the medium of animation, and Mr. Kramer agreed with me. However, even I was amazed at the acclaim given the cartoon inserts in this film."
UPA cartoons are all decidedly different, both in story content and method of execution. Among a staff of seventy-five are some of Hollywood's most accomplished artists, including Bosustow himself. For some of their films, they utilize water colors, showing a brush line where necessary, but often having no perceptible lines at all. This is in direct contrast to the well-inked outlines of Disney drawings and the work of other film cartoonists. It can be traced to Steve's childhood in Victoria.
"When I was eleven, I won a prize in a water color contest sponsored by the Victoria School Board," he told me.
"My ambition then was to become an artist and I studied art after I finished school. The family moved to California and I got my first job with a small animated film company. Later, I went to work for Walt Disney and had quite a bit to do with both 'Bambi' and 'Fantasia.' During the war, we turned out training films for Canadian and U.S. governments and worked out improved techniques. Shortly after it ended, I formed a company to develop some of my own ideas."
To begin with, he took the cartoon off the assembly line and made it more individual. In place of the accepted system of having three different production units handle story, music and animation, he combined these phases of cartoon creation under one director. Rather than applying a routine formula to each and every film, he believes in selecting the art form best suited to the story.
"For adult audiences, I felt that the novelty of cartoons dealing with fairies, animals and children's stories had worn off," he says. "My associates agreed that the time had come for the animated film to absorb new art forms, both classical and contemporary, and go beyond the mere animation of ordinary stories. Gerald McBoing-Boing, the little boy who spoke only in sound effects, proved that we were right."
"Rooty Toot Toot" emerged as a satire on courtroom procedure with great adult appeal. While "Willie the Kid" dealt with children, it showed the world as it appears to an imaginative child. "The Oom-pahs," one of his most experimental efforts, told the story of a family of musical instruments, fighting over the classics as opposed to jazz.
A UPA cartoon called, "The Brotherhood of Man," won the Grand Prize at the 1949 Belgian Film Festival. In 1952, the 41-year-old Bosustow was given an award as the man in the motion picture industry who had done the most to draw the attention of the rest of the world to the American way of life.
While "Gerald McBoing-Boing" was such a hit that a sequel, "The Gerald Symphony" was made, the most popular UPA personality is the near-sighted “Mr. Magoo.” Lovable, amiable and, at the same time, daring and reckless, he is a little man whose quick comments on the world (which he sees as slightly out-of-focus) have made him a widely-quoted wit.
When an informal group of film capital fathers happened to discuss the effect of a new baby on a household, Bosustow's "Family Circus" came into being. "There are any number of directions left for us to take," Steve points out, '"and we never know which one we will follow next. I've been toying with the idea of telling some British Columbia Indian legends with animated actors. If nothing else, they would enable me to shoot the first film of Cadborosaurus or Ogopogo in action."

1 comment:

  1. Not taking the hint that audiences did not want droll or wry after the failure on CBS of The Gerald McBoing Boing Show, and trying to roll those segments into the Ham and Hattie series, seemed to be UPA mis-reading what Columbia was looking for in their short subjects, especially with TV taking away more and more movie-goers by the mid-to-late 1950s.

    Getting critical praise from a select few and boredom (and no bookings) from the theater goers and owners just was asking for Columbia to opt for the cheaper H-B product, at the same time as they were transitioning their former short subjects department into doing TV sitcoms -- they weren't going to lose money to please the newspaper and magazine critics. By not catering to the public and doing what they wanted to do because they believed the critical praise would save them, UPA ended up with Columbia telling the studio they could follow their vision with other people's money.