Tuesday, March 13, 2012

UPA on DVD Coming March 15th

From the late 1940s through the mid-1950s, some of the most imaginative and ground-breaking animation emerged from a studio called UPA (United Productions of America). Their Academy Award winning animated short subjects were theatrically released by Columbia Pictures. UPA is probably best known as the creators of Mr. Magoo* and the animated adaption of Gerald McBoing-Boing by Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel. However, their oeuvre is as eclectic as a patchwork quilt on Jackson Pollock's studio floor. The contemporary feel and unlikely sources (adapting the work of authors such as James Thurber, Edgar Allan Poe, and Ludwig Bemelmans) boldly set the studio apart. This gave UPA bragging rights as animation for the intellectual set.

UPA boasted a mighty talent pool of master animators, writers, and designers who pushed the envelope of "safe" studio animation design to reflect post-modern art and mid-centutry graphic sensibilities. Their creative team generates a list of animation who's-who. Here is a mere sampling of contributors to the UPA shorts: Jules Engel, Bill Scott, Bill Meléndez, Bobe Cannon, and John Hubley (a remarkable animator about whom I plan a lengthy post). These pioneers of the golden age of animation contributed largely to forging the art style which has come to be known as "Cartoon Modern."**

On March 15, the original UPA shorts are being released together on DVD for the first time courtesy of Turner Classic Movies and Sony Pictures. UPA - The Jolly Frolics Collection consists of 3 discs containing 38 theatrical shorts, each remastered and many featuring restored titles. The set has been overseen by Film Authority and Historian Leonard Maltin and Animation Historian Jerry Beck, who have also contributed audio commentaries on selected cartoons. It is exclusively available at TCM's website here: UPA Jolly Frolics DVD, where the list price has been marked down to from $39.99 to $34.99. If you sign up for TCM's mailing list here, you can order the DVD and any of their great movies for an additional 10% off your order. Go, man, go!

* You will find one Mr. Magoo cartoon here, the character's debut short Ragtime Bear - but the complete theatrically released UPA Magoo series will have a home on an official Shout! Factory release this June. You can check out the specs of that DVD set on Amazon: The Mr. Magoo Theatrical Collection (1949-1959).

**  More about this art movement of the 1940s through the 1960s can be found at Amid Amidi's blog: Cartoon Modern.

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