Friday, April 21, 2017

UPA

Where Fleischer Studios was sunk in part due to the start of World War II, UPA was helped by it. UPA, or United Productions of America, was founded in June 1943, and started out by making industrial and World War II training films. The studio was founded in part by John Hubley, along with many other disenfranchised Disney workers who left during Disney's 1941 strike. Hubley had grown to hate Disney's ultra-realistic style of animation and longed to make more stylized animation. UPA kept itself busy through the early forties doing shorts for the UAW and the government, but they eventually dried up during the Red Scare and no one really wanted to be associated with the movie industry. UPA rebounded quickly by winning a contract with Columbia Pictures. After Hubley was able to utilize Columbia's characters, they were given freedom to create their own characters. From this they decided, like Fleischer Studios, to create a human character, namely Mr. Magoo.

Mr. Magoo was a huge hit for UPA, making lots of money at the box office, and even winning Academy Awards for Best Short Subject. They also won another Academy Award for their hit, Gerald McBoing-Boing, which was based on a Dr. Seuss story. UPA eventually turned to television and started the trend of limited animation. Disney and many other studios were trying to make their cartoons look as detailed as possible and that may have looked nice, but it took forever to make cartoons. Limited animation cut down on time and labor by using the same parts of animation, the ones that weren't changing from frame to frame, throughout a scene. The best example I can give is the backgrounds of Scooby Doo, Where Are You? The background was reused several times when the characters were running from ghosts, and in many frames you can tell which item would be moving in that shot because it was a little bit lighter than the rest of the animation. Hanna-Barbera utilized limited animation a ton, but UPA started it and it gave them a lot of success.

Though they had a few more hits with Mr. Magoo, like Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol, the writing was on the wall. By the 60's the world wasn't as keen on movie shorts, so the animation studio shut down and the studio would go on to distribute Toho Studio's "giant monster" or kaiju films in the U.S. UPA would go on until one if its founders, Henry G. Saperstein died in 1998, and the company was sold off to Classic Media in 2000, ending the studio's history. Classic Media was shortly thereafter bought by Dreamworks, though UPA still holds the licensing rights to Mr. Magoo.

UPA, like Fleischer Studios, only came out with two feature films in its history, 1001 Arabian Nights, and Gay Purr-ee. I had only heard of Gay Purr-ee before researching the company, but have never seen it. 1001 Arabian Nights, which came out in 1959, is unique in that they shoe-horned Mr. Magoo into the film as Uncle Abdul Azziz Magoo. Yes, really. 1001 Arabian Nights was not the hit that UPA hoped it would be and it contributed to Columbia dropping them. Gay Pur-ee came out in 1962, and had the star power of Judy Garland behind it. Chuck Jones helped write the story and you can definitely see his animation style in the movie. Judy Garland and Chuck Jones' style was not enough, as the movie flopped, though critics liked it.

Not sure if you're seeing a trend yet, but while these animation studios could compete with Disney on a shorts level, they could not when it came to theatrical releases. That sort of competition won't come around until the 1980's. Still, these movies are still worth noting, as they still hold an important part of animation history. Animated films outside of Disney were few and far between, and not all of them were that bad.

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