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100 Greatest Animated Shorts / Gerald McBoing Boing / Robert Cannon

100 Greatest Animated Shorts, Featured

USA / 1950

After the 1941 strike a number of artists left the Disney studios, disillusioned with the company’s attitude to its workers and its drive towards realism. When Zack Schwartz, David Hilberman and Stephen Bosustow formed what would later be called United Productions of America (UPA) in 1943, they had a mission to take on the mighty studio armed only with a fistful of pencils, firing their modernist missiles of stylisation and high design. While they didn’t bring down the empire (which was not their intention) or create one of their own, they did change the direction of animation and, ultimately, of the Disney Studio.

Later joined by more ex-Disney men including John Hubley and Robert ‘Bobe’ Cannon, UPA pursued the “ideal future” of animation, first with wartime propaganda films for the government (a savior for many animation studios worldwide at this time) and then for political parties and unions. Having developed their distinctive flattened, simplified and angular style – the antithesis of Disney’s realism – a series featuring Hubley’s character Mr Magoo became a commercial and critical success and a string of brilliant one-off short films followed, winning UPA fifteen Oscar nominations in the decade after 1949.

Gerald McBoing Boing, adapted from a story by children’s author Ted Geisel (aka Dr Seuss, who had met UPA writer/artist Phil Eastman in the Army), concerns a young boy who can only produce sound effects instead of words, and how he turns the embarrassment of this into an advantage. Layout man Bill Hurtz and the UPA artists reduced the design to a few elemental lines, getting rid of all walls, floors, horizon lines and skies, complemented by graceful, muted, flat colors that subtly change with the mood of the story. The film, directed by Cannon and produced by Hubley, won that year’s Oscar for best short and was turned into a television series by UPA. Avoiding direct competition with the zaniness of Warner Bros/MGM or the storytelling of Disney, the minimalist Gerald McBoing Boing compensated with personality, charm, and bags of style. With its deliberate antirealism as well as low-detail animation and backgrounds, it established UPA as the frontrunners in progressive, mimimalist cartoon-making. A series of further award-winning UPA shorts directed by Hubley and Cannon followed in the next few years, establishing a style of ‘limited animation’ that would be taken up enthusiastically by other producers without such artistic ideals as the cornerstone of the age of low-cost TV animation.

Other artists involved that would go on to have esteemed careers were writer Bill Scott (future creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle), background artist Jules Engel (a future experimental director and mentor to many animators as director of California University of the Arts Film Graphics Department) and legendary animator and future director Bill Melendez.

Note: The 100 greatest animated shorts is an list of opinions and not an order of value from best to worst. All suggestions, comments and outrage are welcome but please don’t shoot us, it’s only a list!

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