Friday, June 01, 2007


Will Finn, on his new and most welcome blog, makes an excellent point about the UPA blogtroversy:

When he and I were kids UPA was an absolute sacred cow and you were ordered to love it or else by people who hated Bugs, Popeye and even Disney. Later in the 70's intelligent authors like Joe Adamson, Leonard Maltin and John Canemaker started covering the other side of the story and the playing field evened up, maybe to the point of overcompensation. Now it seems like Amid Amidi's excellent book CARTOON MODERN is almost overdue.

We don't always realize that the acceptance of WB, MGM and Fleischer cartoons as classics is a recent development. Up until the '70s, books on animation routinely dismissed all non-Disney Hollywood studio cartoons in about a paragraph.

UPA was formed in an atmosphere where the kind of work being done at Hollywood studios was seen as limiting, lacking in artistry, and too beholden to comedy formulas, broad movements, violent gags and funny animals. But now, the perception is different: the cartoons UPA was rebelling against have become canonized as the great masterpieces of animation. And so this has created a backlash against UPA cartoons, precisely because they were intended to be the exact opposite of the Bob Clampett/Tex Avery type of cartoon. I think that some animators who straddled both camps were a little taken aback by these reputation shifts.

But backlash is a poor basis for evaluating anything, and I don't think we can hold it against UPA for changing the look and approach of animated cartoons. By the time UPA got started, the basic template for a funny cartoon (funny animals, silent-movie-style physical comedy) had been pushed as far as it could go and somebody had to look for new things to do. I think many UPA backlashers incorrectly blame UPA for killing the Clampett/Avery-style cartoon, when UPA was really responding to early signs of the eventual death of that type of cartoon (including the fact that, with the studio system collapsing, a cartoon studio had to learn more from industrial/commercial animation in order to stay afloat).


Anonymous said...

What's interesting to me about this debate is how quick it boils down to high class vs. low class, the oldest conflict in society.

Entertainment cartoons about animals smacking each other appeals to the lowest common denominator, but their skillful EXECUTION is what makes them beautiful to animator types and mkaes people wear out the freeze frame button on their DVD player... The gags and characters appeal to regular guys. Something for everyone.

Stylized cartoons like the Telltale Heart are simply not meant for regular people, but high-class artsy types who appreciate the skill behind the designs. Me, I need both skill AND entertainment. What John, I think, was getting at, was that his favourite stylized cartoons are stylized but with the old entertainment traditions of Warner Bros. and classic comedy. Maybe UPA's output work better as model sheets than as cartoons.

I'm no fan of stylized cartoons, save early HB, and Tex, and it's because the films are both beautiful AND funny.

Whit said...

The best reading I ever heard of "The Telltale Heart" was given by Vincent Price on an old Mike Douglas show in the late sixties. James Mason's reading was reserved in comparison but UPA perhaps wanted the classier sounding British accent, despite the material being an American poem.