Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Check It Out: THE UPA JOLLY FROLICS COLLECTION (part one)



I rob from the Rich and I give to the Poor
Then I rob from the Poor when the Rich need more
I rob from the Rich again, but alas --
I never give a thing to the Middle Class . . .

Robin Hood's archery skills are suspect at best, the (new) Sheriff of Nottingham is something of a klutz, and the fondness of the Merry Men for tea and crumpets have left them decidedly out-of-shape.

Robin Hoodlum was meant as something of an audition for animation studio UPA (United Productions of America) to see if they could produce theatrical shorts for Columbia Pictures, which had recently shut down their own animation studio, Screen Gems.  Within a month or two of its premiere in December of 1948, this "audition" was nominated for an Academy Award.  Not bad . . .


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UPA was required to turn out two more theatrical shorts featuring Columbia's established characters Fox and Crow, who had appeared in Robin Hoodlum, but they were also allowed to introduce a character of their own, a crotchety near-sighted gentleman that director John Hubley said was partially inspired by an uncle of is.  Quincy Magoo.  The rest is history.


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A story of the quest for gold, love, and baked beans, The Miner's Daughter was one of the first UPA cartoons that was truly theirs alone -- no Funny Animals, no borrowed characters, and sparing use of dialogue in a form was often packed wall-to-wall with verbal and visual jokes.  The plot and characters could very well derive from a B-movie starring Judy Canova, but the handling is gentle and whimsical in a way that was very much a UPA hallmark.


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Having already scored several Oscar nominations during their relatively-brief association with Columbia Pictures, UPA won the first of three for Best Short Subject (Cartoon) for their 1951 production Gerald McBoing Boing.  The story, written by Ted Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss), had started life as a comedy record narrated by popular radio and voice-over actor Harold Peary.  The story was adapted by Bill Scott and Phil Eastman (who, as P. D. Eastman, would become a very popular kids' author himself) and composer Gail Kubik, who had also scored the record, did similar duties here.  Any resemblance to a typical cartoon of the time had completely disappeared by now, although within a year or two, just about every animation studio in town would be struggling to copy UPA . . .


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Rooty Toot Toot is one of only two cartoons I can think of with a credit for choreography (the other being Ballet-Oop, also made for UPA).  Director John Hubley and his animators worked with L.A.-area dancer Olga Lunick to create dances for this mini-musical based on the old song "Frankie and Johnny" (the music was by pianist/arranger/bandleader/voice coach/songwriter Phil Moore, the lyrics by Alan Alch, and the uncredited vocals by singer Annette Warren and voice actor/singer Thorl Ravenscroft).  The story of one man, two women, and a loaded gun.  A lot of fun and not a bad argument for gun control, either . . .


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