Saturday, 21 May 2022

Explaining Magoo

UPA set out to tell animated stories with a more modern drawing style than generally seen on the screen, with mature characters (that is, no funny animals).

It succeeded. The studio won critical acclaim for its adaptation of Gerald McBoing Boing and then with a grouchy old man named Mr. Magoo. There was just one problem.

The general public.

People generally want something familiar, something they already like. They don’t want one-shot cartoons. They want to see characters they enjoy. They wanted more Gerald and more Magoo. That’s what they got.

But why did they enjoy Mr. Magoo?

That question was answered by someone named Rita Cummings. She wasn’t an animator or a cartoon writer. She was UPA’s PR flack. She capably gave some insight to the Los Angeles Mirror-Daily News in an article published March 3, 1955.

Studio Pal Gives Lowdown on Magoo
In the hot race for the Oscars this season, and the speculation that centers around Bing and Judy, Grace and Marlon, there is still Mr. Magoo to be considered. He, too, is a nominee for the Academy Awards.
Because he is myopic, Mr. Magoo may not know all the time where he's going, but he has many fans, most of them new, who will tell you he is on his way to greater things.
Fascinated particularly by Mr. Magoo’s quaint stumbling, mumbling and bumbling in "When Magoo Flew," his first Cinemascope picture (and the one that got him the Oscar nomination) we called on Rita Cummings, a young and zealous co-worker of Mr. Magoo’s at the UPA movie-cartoon studio, to give us the lowdown on the cantankerous, but lovable gent.
"Well, I think that it is interesting that Magoo wasn't created and cast to star in these pictures," she declares. “He made his original appearance in ‘The Ragtime Bear’ as a supporting player to the bear and Magoo's nephew Waldo. But by the force of his own personality he stole the picture and since that time the roles have been reversed. They sometimes support him.
“Mr. Magoo is usually guided by the best of motives. But due to his inability to see, he has almost always made a basic mistake in what is going on around him, and so goes tearing off on wild tangents from reality. Magoo is about 60 years old. He is retired, has had a comfortable amount of money long enough to be unconcemed with many mundane problems, but is apt to rage if he is being cheated.
Here, though, it is the principle of the thing and not the money itself, which concerns him.
“He likes to think of himself as a hard-headed, practical businessman, but actually, he is a softie who allows himself to be moved solely by his emotions.
“His temper and irascibility are a defense mechanism, a mask on his weakness of vision. He has glasses, but they don’t help him very much, and he won’t wear them anyway. He almost never admits that he can't see. Even when it is brought to his' attention, he will deny it with a line such as, “Why don't they put up a sign?”
“He lives in an ornate gingerbread mausoleum, furnished in cluttered and overdecorated Victorian style, containing everything from paperweights to pugdogs. But he also has a TV set and a garbage disposal unit. His attitude toward Waldo, his callow and none-too-bright nephew, is at once overbearing and tender. He will rage at the lad over some trifling matter, then buy him a car for his birthday.
“Magoo is a literate person. The malaprop does not become him. But he admits to no unfamiliarity with anything. He considers himself conversant on any subject automobiles, golf, insurance, politics, or what have you. So, as he plunges afield, he frequently gets his terminology mixed up.
“He is a helper—a do-gooder and being a forceful personality he always takes charge. His arrangements result in anxiety for others, but he, of course, is blissfully unaware of this.
“We have found that the most successful Magoo stories are based on legitimate and universal themes—something as commonplace as buying a used car, collecting on an accident policy, playing a game of golf or tennis. The charm is in Magoo’s way of handling these situations.
“Magoo is a person who grows on you. I feel I have benefited from my association with him. I admire him honesty and forthrightness.”


  1. I tend toward a knee-jerk reaction where Mr. Magoo is concerned, probably because I grew up seeing those lousy made-for-TV Magoo cartoons, which a local station ran for years as part of a "cartoon carnival"-type series of whatever animated odds and ends the station had leased at the time. I couldn't stand Magoo. How many rubber-stamped cartoons could you make about a near-sighted old man who is forever mistaking one thing for another? Maybe if I'd seen any of the theatrical Magoo cartoons or the Magoo "Christmas Carol" I would have felt differently about him.

    It didn't help that one of my best friends was Chinese, and he and his family were always appalled at Asian stereotypes like Magoo's houseboy, a horrifyingly racist character with buck teeth and a chronic inability to speak proper English or to address his employer as anything other than "Mis-tah Ma-gloo."

  2. I'm sure I've talked here about "booing" at the TV set at the end of one of those Saperstein Magoos. I saw very few of the theatricals when I was a kid, just the eye-rolling TV versions. I don't know how anyone found them entertaining.

  3. As a child, I had no knowledge of the 'inferiority' of the made for TV Magoo cartoons...I loved them and I loved the character. Now having seen the entire Magoo aggregation I appreciare him all the more, but I'll always have a fondness for the TV shorts. And "Magoo's Christmas Carol" will always remain my favorite version of that story. I treasure my three Magoo cels, and many Christmases ago I bought my brother a master pan cel set up with the original background from "Ragtime Bear" - I wonder whay it's worth now!

  4. As with the limited animation Popeye cartoons made at the same time as the Saperstein Magoos, you have to consider the source. You try producing theatrical quality animation with one third the budget in one fourth the time; you try coming up with stories for cartoons numbering in the hundreds. Take the glass-half-full approach: all things considered, it's a tribute to all concerned that the cartoons are as good as they are. After all, it was Saperstein who finally brought Magoo and McBoing Boing together (the former as the latter's babysitter, of course).

    Anyway, why do they keep saying that Magoo was a supporting character in "Ragtime Bear"? He's prominently billed in the opening credits (admittedly, it says "with Mister Magoo" instead of "starring," if you want to quibble), or was that an after-the-fact reissue thing? And from the beginning, he seems like the lead when he addresses the narrator "Which way is Hodge Podge Lodge?"