Last January, I mentioned that there would be several Magoo related items being released this year. The first was the seminal history on the UPA studio, When Magoo Flew, by Adam Abraham. It tells the story of the unique studio that revolutionized animation design but was plagued by indecision, weak stories and poor production management, all of which eventually did it in. While the studio eschewed what it felt were the rigid formulas of the other studios' output, UPA was no less rigid in it's ideological viewpoint; any mention of Warner Bros. cartoons, for example, was strictly verboten. Bill Scott, head writer for Jay Ward, who wrote for both Warner Bros. and UPA, concurred: "To begin with, you never mentioned Warner Bros.! The kiss of death at UPA was to be considered a Warner Bros. writer." Gerard Baldwin, in his upcoming autobiography, recalls how Chuck Jones, who had directed an early UPA effort, Hell Bent for Election, eagerly screened his first Roadrunner film, Fast and Furryous, for the UPA artists to deafening silence. The audience filed out silently and Jones slunk back to his car, alone, film in hand. It also appears to have been a studio not for the faint of heart, at least if you were in the top echelon of artists. While the artists were outspoken in their opinions of the other animation studios of the time, they reserved the long knives for themselves , often turning on each other through political jockeying and power plays. Many consider Hank Saperstein’s ruthless takeover of the company as the destruction of a once great enterprise but this book makes it clear that the foundation for its demise was in place long before then. Highly recommended.
Another new release for this year was the UPA boxed set, a retrospective of all the studio’s non-Magoo cartoons (although it does include Magoo’s first cartoon, The Ragtime Bear). The UPA library has been difficult to find on video and no complete collection of the studio’s cartoons has ever been released before. The set is a great companion piece to Abraham’s book as it provides a visual counterpart to his text and illustrates both the strengths and weaknesses of the studio’s theatrical output and makes it clear that UPA's reputation was made off of a surprisingly small group of films. Despite this, the studio's impact on animation design continues to reverberate today. Most of the transfers are gorgeous, allowing a viewer to better comprehend the design and color that made the studio so renown.
Last but not least was a boxed set of the complete theatrical Magoo cartoons including his feature debut, 1001 Arabian Nights, which has been long out of print. Unfortunately, this set, which was scheduled for release first in February, then June and finally December, has been pushed back yet again and will not be released until sometime next year. The good news is that the delay is due to the fact that all the cartoons are being digitally remastered from the original negatives and it’s taking Sony longer than originally anticipated. However, if the UPA boxed set is any indication, it will be worth the wait. I will update this blog when there is more news to report on the collection.