Little Histories of Cinema. Boing, Boing! UPA: The Revolution of Modern Animation
Children's film series
«To talk about animation design in the fifties without mentioning United Productions of America (UPA) is like talking about the great film comics without mentioning Chaplin or Keaton.» Amid Amidi
In the late 1940s, a group of animators and artists came up with a new way of making animated films in a style that was close to avant-garde art as well as jazz, and nothing like the work being produced by the major production companies of the time such as Disney, Metro Goldwyn Mayer and Warner Bros. Many of these artists converged at the United Productions of America (UPA) studios.
UPA was to the fifties what Disney had been to the thirties: an inescapable reference in the world of animation. In fact, one was the offspring of the other, given that the founders of UPA had left Disney due to irreconcilable artistic differences and industrial relations issues. The studio founded by these «Disney rebels» broke away from the established canon in favour of a contemporary graphic style based on simple lines and limited, expressive colour and animation, which was attractive and stimulating for adults as well as children.
Unlike other studios, UPA respected the vision and personal style of individual artists, who included animation greats such as Bill Hurtz, Robert Cannon, Jules Engel, Ted Parmelee, Paul Julian and John Hubley. Like the innovative architecture and graphic art of the time (Stuart Davis, Ben Sahn, Saul Steinberg, etc.), the animators tackled new subject matter and were committed to innovation on all fronts. They worked with some of the best jazz musicians of the time, including Dizzy Gillespie, Shorty Rogers and Chico Hamilton, and with one of the most popular creators of children's books, the writer known as Dr. Seuss (The Cat in the Hat). The architect John Lautner, a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed a modern studio for them in Burbank, where, in keeping with their characteristic style, they set up a much more flexible work regime. Some time later they opened branches in New York and London. The UPA immediately garnered acclaim from audiences and critics alike, so much so that their work was exhibited at the New York MoMA in 1955.
Known as the creators of the ever-popular Mr. Magoo, the UPA, with Stephen Bosustow at the helm and John Hubley as artistic director, also produced many other short films, such as the legendary Gerald Mc Boing Boing, Rooty Toot Toot and Christopher Crumpet, as well as some of the finest advertisements and commercial films of the time. With three Oscars and nine nominations in barely 14 years of existence, the work of UPA is still considered exemplary for the rhythm, colour and characteristic stylised graphics of its films.
The study and recovery of UPA films has been hindered by the limited specific bibliographic material and the fact that most of its works have never been released on DVD. The program is rounded off with a selection of works from the same period by artists from other studios who were also committed to a new way of understanding cartoons.
Programmed by Carolina López Caballero
Saturdays, 14, 28 February and 14 March at 5.30 pm
A Cocktail of Jazz and Design
Duration: 53 min
Rather than having musicians on its payroll like other animation studios did, UPA hired musicians specifically for each project, and some of the recording sessions ended up being true jam sessions. The graphic art associated with jazz music, like the record covers designed by Jim Flora (who worked for the New York branch), was undoubtedly an influence on the work of John Hubley and other UPA artists. Living in the midst of the cold war, many of them sympathised with the communist party (Disney called them «the commies down the river») and may have found a way of expressing freedom in Afro-American bebop, drawing and storylines featuring a different character who is rejected, only to have his worth subsequently discovered and praised. This is the case, for example, in Gerald Mc Boing Boing.
Gerald Mc Boing Boing, Robert Cannon, 1951, 6 min 40 s
Gerald is an exceptional little boy who can't talk. All he can do is make sounds. Based on a rhyming story by Dr. Seuss.
The Oompahs, Robert Cannon, 1952, 7 min
Mr. Oompah is a tuba, Mrs Oompah is a melophone and little Orbil is a small, rebellious trumpet.
Rooty Toot Toot, John Hubley, 1952, 7 min 20 s
A beautiful young woman stands trial for murder, to the rhythm of jazz.
Madeline, Robert Cannon, 1952, 6 min 20 s
Madeline, the smallest girl at her boarding school, has to get her appendix out.
Christopher Crumpet, Robert Cannon, 1953, 6 min 30 s
A spoiled little boy wants a rocket ship, and whenever he gets angry he turns into... a chicken!
The Unicorn in the Garden, William T. Hurtz, 1953, 6 min 20 s
A man sees a unicorn in his garden, and his wife thinks he is crazy. Based on a story by James Thurber.
Spare de the Child, Abe Liss, 1955, 6 min
A little boy who is sick of obeying orders takes on adult size.
Fudget's Budget , Robert Cannon, 1954, 6 min 30 s
How to make ends meet and not die trying.
Ordinary Folk, Animated Folk
Duration: 53 min
UPA cartoonists preferred human characters, satire and abstract art over animal characters, slapstick humour and figurative art. Their storylines, which reflected anxieties about childhood and other adult themes, won over audiences of all ages. Apart from the popular Mr. Magoo (a cartoon character who acted more like a flesh and blood character than a drawing), other characters like Gerald Mc. Boing Boing and Ham and Hattie also gave rise to a series of short films screened in cinemas.
How Now Boing Boing, Robert Cannon, 1954, 7 min
A speech therapist manages to decipher the boing boings and other sounds made by Gerald McCloy, «the sound making boy».
Baby Boogie, Paul Julian, 1955, 6 min
A little girl asks her father: «Where do babies come from?»
Childlike graphics in action.
Rise of Duton Lang, Osmond Evans, 1955, 6 min 20 s
The amazing story of a gluttonous scientist.
Magoo's Canine Mutiny, Pete Burness, 1956, 7 min
UPA's most popular character mistakes a robber for a dog.
Willie the Kid, Robert Cannon, 1952, 6 min 40 s
Willie and his friend travel to fantasy worlds through play, while his parents remain anchored in reality.
Little Boy with a big Horn, Robert Cannon, 1953, 6 min 20 s
A boy wants to play the tuba, but his playing upsets everybody.
Ballet-Oop, Robert Cannon, 1954, 7 min
The end of year performance is drawing near and the girls must learn their dance steps.
Hattie: Trees and Hamilton Ham: Jamaica Daddy, Lewis Seller, 1959, 6 min 30 s
Two musical short films with songs by Mel Leven, who composed for Peggy Lee and Nat King Cole. Hattie sings and runs among the trees. Papa Jamaica is a fun ode to the importance of perpetuating the family tree.
Duration: 60 min
UPA has been hugely influential: at Hanna Barbera (Yogi Bear, The Flinstones, Lippy the Lion and Hardy Har Har), Cartoon Network (The Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory), and even at Disney with movies like 101 Dalmatians or artists like Chuck Jones (Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century), Saul Bass (who designed the title credits for Anatomy of a Murder), Fred Crippen (Roger Ramjet) and John Krikfalusi (Ren and Stimpy), among others. But advertising was the first to take up its legacy, even through UPA artists themselves. This selection focuses on shorts made at the same time as UPA films, advertisements produced by Estudios Moro (Spanish animation) and, to close the program, the updated version of the classic Gerald Mc Boing Boing.
Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom, Ward Kimball y C. August Nichols, 1953, 10 min
A crash course in the history of Western instruments. A film produced by Disney that clearly shows the influence of UPA.
Dixieland Droopy, Tex Avery, 1954, 8 min
Droopy is a misunderstood fan of Dixieland Jazz. Tex Avery hired the cartoonist Ed Benedict to revamp his characters.
Petroushka. John Wilson, 1956, 13 min
Stravinsky himself directed the film adaptation of his work. It was created by John Wilson, who had previously worked for UPA.
Flebus, Ernest Pintoff, 1957, 6 min
Flebus is obsessed with being everybody's friend. One of the few modern-style cartoons produced by Terrytoons.
Surogat, Dusan Vukotik, 1961, 10 min
In Europe, UPA's influence made itself felt in the prolific Zagreb school. Surogat was the first non-American short film to win an Oscar.
Selection of advertisements from Estudios Moro
The UPA influence in Spain was best reflected by the creators of the famous Familia Telerín
Gerald Mc Boing Boing. Good Deeds, Librarians and Aliens, Cookie Jar, 2006, 10 min
A new version of the classic UPA character, in a TV adaptation.
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