Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

A blog dedicated to the making of the first animated Christmas special, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol soundtrack

As part of the 50th anniversary edition of the book, I had proposed including a soundtrack which was to have featured the film’s song score, Styne & Merrill’s demo recordings of their tunes and Walter Scharf’s underscore.  The idea was well received and Classic Media was on board so I  built the book around this proposal.  The songs had been released on iTunes back in 2010 and the long lost Overture had been discovered, too, so it seemed like the project would fall into place and finally, the long awaited original film soundtrack would be released, 50 years after the film had made its debut.  

Unfortunately, when the digging really began in earnest, it was discovered that the only musical material that existed in the vaults were the previously released songs and Overture.  For those with an attuned ear, it’s clear that the iTunes-released songs are from the original recording session; the final standalone versions of the songs cannot be located.  Equally disappointing, the score didn’t exist in any form whatsoever; not the original scoring session takes, not as a standalone score, not even as a mixed music and sound effects track commonly used for foreign language dubbing.

It was, and is, a major disappointment.  What seems likely is that the elements are mislabeled or filed incorrectly in the vault.  According to a former executive at UPA, the elements were delivered when the assets were purchased.  At some point in the future, when the missing elements are located, the intent is to still release an original soundtrack.  Until that day, we’ll have to content ourselves with the track that currently exists on the DVD releases.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Bob Singer, background painter

In a post from several years ago, I profiled Bob Singer, one of the production designers on Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, who laid out several key areas of the film including the prologue on Broadway and the opening sequence in Scrooge’s office.  In his capacity as a layout artist, he was responsible for drawing the characters and their environments but had nothing to do with how they were interpreted in color.  However, prior to joining UPA, Bob was employed at Warner Bros. Cartoons as a background painter.  He did most of his painting in Bob McKimson’s unit but would occasionally swing into action doing both paintings and layouts for other directors, like Chuck Jones and Abe Levitow.  He was about to become Friz Freleng’s layout man when UPA offered him more money.

During my consultation for I Say, I Say... Son!, the book on Looney Tunes director Bob McKimson, I reviewed a number of Foghorn cartoons and came across one featuring Singer’s work as a background painter.  Below are some frames from the cartoon, Crockett Doodle Doo, highlighting Singer’s sense of color, with layouts by animation legend, Bob Givens.  Click on each image to enlarge it:

You can see the complete cartoon here but if you want to see a nice print where you can fully appreciate the color and design work, order it here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

New book on Bob McKimson!

I wanted to let all my readers know that there's a new tome out on Robert McKimson, probably the most overlooked of the main Looney Tunes directors.  The book, I Say, I Say...Son!, written by his son, Robert Jr., tells the story of not only his father’s life and career but also covers the stories of his uncles, Tom and Charles, both of whom were also deeply involved in Warner Bros. Cartoons.  Tom was a layout man and character designer in Bob Clampett’s unit, the first person to draw Tweety Bird and Beaky Buzzard and Chuck animated on many of his brother’s cartoons through the late 40s and into the early 50s.

Under Bob’s direction, the world was introduced to Foghorn Leghorn and the Tasmanian Devil, both integral parts of the Looney Tunes pantheon.  Bob was an amazing draftsman but, by all accounts, was also a quiet and unassuming man and consequently lost many of the political battles waged by other directors.  He often ended up with castoff talent, artists that other directors maneuvered out of their units, yet many of his cartoons are viewed as classics to this day.  Hillbilly Hare with its violent square dance routine (inspired by the cartoon studio’s embrace of square dancing by a large portion of its staff), Rabbit’s Kin (the introduction of Pete Puma with Stan Freberg’s unforgettable vocal characterization) and Little Boy Boo (with the silent but methodical Egghead Jr., the perfect foil for Foghorn Leghorn’s incessant jabbering) as well as many others. 

While the book has the requisite limited edition images, created from images drawn by Bob before his untimely death in 1977, it’s also chock full of great vintage art, most of which has never been seen before-animation drawings from some of Bob Clampett’s films, character layouts for a number of Bob McKimson’s own cartoons and even his lobby card drawings, done to help publicize his films in theaters.  There’s even a section on Tom McKimson featuring art from his Western Publishing days.  Even if you’re familiar with the history of Warner Bros. cartoon studio, there is still much to be gleaned from the text (like how Bob became such a prolific animator, doing 2-3 times as much footage as any other animator in house).  I think it’s worth picking up just for both the art and the history of the brothers.  However, in the interests of full disclosure, I was asked to consult on the book as well as write an introduction for it. You can buy it here.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol back on NBC!

Classic Media informs me that NBC, the original broadcaster for Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, will be showing the special during prime time on Dec. 22 at 8 PM in honor of its 50th anniversary.  Much has changed on television since 1962 and one thing is length.  A broadcast hour then was 52 minutes with the balance being taken up by commercials.  A broadcast hour today is 44 minutes so expect to see some cuts made in the story, perhaps the absence of a song as well.  However, it's nice to see a national broadcaster revive the special after so many years of its absence from the air.  Thank you Classic Media and NBC!

Monday, November 5, 2012

The 50th Anniversary Edition is here!

It's finally here!  Pictured above is the 50th anniversary collector's edition of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special.  For those wondering if they should order this edition, I've decided to answer a few questions on how and why this book came about. 

 Why a 50th anniversary edition of a book that's been out for several years? 

When I first published the book in 2009, I had proposed doing a special edition for the 50th anniversary in 2012 figuring it was several years away.  The first book did better than anyone expected and sold out quickly.  It wasn't in my plans but due to demand, I decided to do a second run with corrections inserted wherever I could.  That edition is on the verge of selling out now. 

In October of last year, a good friend asked me if I was still going to do a 50th book.  I told him it was time to move on but he made it clear he felt something needed to be done to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the special and this might be the only thing to happen.  Not only that, he was willing to put his money where his mouth was.  Although touched, I still wasn't completely convinced.  It was only after I mentioned it to several other interested parties who were also willing to support the project that I agreed to do it.

Isn't this just a ploy to sell the same book three times over?

I'm not that smart.  This is not a money-making venture.  If it weren't for the 'angel investors' mentioned above, this book wouldn't exist.  Those 'angels' have to be paid back from the proceeds of book sales, not an easy task when the print run is so low.  Also, as I mentioned above, there was never supposed to be a second printing and although this edition uses the same format as the previous ones, it has been thoroughly revised and expanded.  It is no easy job to tear apart a book, insert hundreds of images and add text without destroying the narrative and then stitch it all back together. 

Then what's different about this edition as opposed to the previous printings?

 As I mentioned in a previous post, the book has been expanded to 176 pages from the original 128.  There are close to twice as many illustrations now, 435 vs. the original 232, which include: photos which were eliminated from the previous editions due to space restrictions, frames from the re-mastered film when no art could be found to reflect the text, discarded art from deleted sequences which give a glimpse into the production process and a large amount of new production art, most of which was discovered since the last printing.  I had hoped to include some images from Ronald Searle’s illustrations of "A Christmas Carol", showing the influence he had on this production, but the Searle attorneys were dismissive.  Fortunately, Timex was far more cooperative and there are some frames from the original opening credits.  

The book features heavier board and paper stock, printed endpapers, cloth binding in a cloth bound slipcase with gold foil stamping and limited to 250 numbered copies.  

Can I buy this at my local bookstore or on Amazon?

Yes and no.  Book retailers have an unfortunate habit of damaging books somewhere along the supply line; the publisher has to bear the cost of shipping the book to the distributor, having it become damaged and therefore no longer sell-able, and then paying to have the book shipped back.  It makes no sense on a premium book like this to risk that kind of damage and expense.  Although I may make the book available on Amazon, regardless of where you buy it, here or there, it will be coming from me.  It will not be available at your local bookstore.

If you want to order the book, you can get it here.  It's the definitive edition and when it's gone, it's gone.