Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Best Animated Short - 1950

And we are now ready to bid good-bye to the 1950s. It was a good decade, with tons of classic films and several years with only three Best Animated Short nominees and the golden age of baseball when the Yankees ruled the sport. But most of all it was the decade where almost but one of my aunts and uncle was born*. My oldest aunt was born in the year 1950, and so she is now closing in on her 63rd birthday in August, which makes her approximately the same age my grandma when I was born. Which means I'm now the same age that my grandmother was when she had my oldest aunt. My reaction to that is the same as Ludwig von Drake after his horrible pun in A Symposium on Popular Songs. But such is the effects of time. We're all getting older, and some day in the distant future we'll be as relevant as the people from the 1860s that went about their daily life.

*My mom's youngest brother was born in 1961.

Well, that's enough depressing stuff. Let's move onto the Oscars.

The box office hit of the year was Walt Disney's animated adaptation of the fairy tale Cinderella, which not only marked a return to full-length animated spectacles after years of making package films, but was a classic that remained Disney's favorite of his films, and my favorite Disney film not named Wreck-It Ralph. Alas, as an animated film it was mostly ignored in the Oscars, picking up only three nominations. To be fair two of the Best Picture nominees only had three nominations: Father of the Bride and King Solomon's Mines. The others were Born Yesterday (5 nominations), Sunset Blvd (11 nominations), and All About Eve (a record-smashing 14 nominations.) Those were the only films with corresponding Best Director awards, with the others going to John Huston for The Asphalt Jungle and Sir Carol Reed for The Third Man.

One of Cinderella's nominations was in the Best Music (Musical) category, but it lost that to Annie Get Your Gun. Another was in the Best Original Song category (for Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo instead of A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes), but it lost that to Captain Carey, USA for the Nat King Cole song "Mona Lisa." Its final nomination was in the Best Sound category, but it lost that to All About Eve. So much for Cinderella. Best Music (Dramatic/Comedy) went to Sunset Blvd. King Solomon's Mines won Best Color Cinematography while Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah won the other two Color categories. The film where DeMille actually made an appearance, Sunset Blvd., won Best Black/White Art Direction, while All About Eve won for Costume Design and The Third Man won for Cinematography. King Solomon's Mines won Best Editing, while Destination Moon, one of the first live action films George Pal produced after leaving animated shorts, won Best Special Effects.

It became clear that the year's race was down to Sunset Blvd. and All About Eve, since those were the only films with double digit nominations. Sunset Blvd. came out on top in the two technical categories where they competed. Unfortunately they competed in different writing categories, with the former winning Best Story and Screenplay and the latter winning Best Screenplay. The wonderfully titled Panic in the Streets won Best Story. It seems that it would be in the acting categories that the two films would have at it. Sunset Blvd. had nominations in every acting category, while five of All About Eve's 14 nominations came in those categories. All About Eve had an early victory when George Sanders won Best Supporting Actor for his role as a dastardly theater critic over the haunting Erich von Stroheim for Sunset Blvd. And to the surprise of all the two films took a backseat in the other three categories. Josephine Hull won Best Supporting Actress for Harvey. Jose Ferror won Best Actor for Cyrano de Bergerac. And the most compelling category of the night, the one that featured the dueling stars of All About Eve and the wasted silent film star of Sunset Blvd., actually went to Judy Holliday for her humerous role in Born Yesterday.

So when the last two awards of the night came about, All About Eve held a narrow 4-3 lead over Sunset Blvd., respectable numbers but not exactly what people expected with 14 and 11 nominations. There was a chance for Sunset Blvd to come back, especially since All About Eve director Joseph L. Mankiewicz won the Best Director Oscar the year before. Alas, that did not matter to Oscar voters, as he won again, becoming the last person to win back to back Best Director awards. (Then again not many have even won back to back nominations.) And after that All About Eve easily waltzed to a Best Picture win. Margo Channing was right. It really was a bumpy night.

And one of those bumpy categories was Best Animated Short.

Gerald McBoing Boing
The McCloys were a happy suburban couple eagerly waiting for the day where their two-year son Gerald would say his first words. However, when that day finally came it was not a joyous occasion for the couple, for he didn't talk words, he went "boing boing" instead. Yes, poor little Gerald could only make sound effects. By the time he was school-aged, his parents were annoyed by his difference. Thing weren't much better for Gerald. He wasn't allowed to go to school, and he couldn't make any friend. Can he ever find happiness? Theodore Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, is one of the most famous children's book authors in American history. His stories such as The Cat in the Hat is known from here to Cairo, but most people don't know that he also wrote Gerald McBoing Boing even though it is one of his more famous stories. It actually first appeared not in book form but as a record. It was so charming that the United Productions of America studios picked it as the film where they will unleash their artistic skills in it entirety. And boy did it take the animation world by surprise. While most studios were trying to emulate the Disney formula of detailed animation, Gerald McBoing Boing was a film that was very limited in terms of its animation. Backgrounds were sparse, there were very little in the foreground, and the character design were mostly just simple lines. Yet they were able to use color as a way to express emotion, such as the haunting blackness that echoed Gerald's heart as he was running away. Similarly the lack of detail would allow viewers to focus on the story, which was a doozy. It featured the Seussian rhyming that would become his trademark, and excellent use of sound effects by both Gerald and the radio executive. More importantly, it touched upon the idea of accepting those that are different. If everybody did that then the world would be a much better place. Of course, showing Mr. McCloy rejecting his son until he becomes a big star doesn't reflect well on the man, and the question as far as whether or not Gerald can end up with a happy life is a big question mark, but he got a happy ending in this film, and that's all that's important. Although its success would eventually lead to the prevalence of limited animation without the artistic vision of those at UPA, Gerald McBoing Boing was still a landmark film.
Where Can I Watch It?

Jerry's Cousin
For once in his life Tom had the upper hand over his arch-nemesis Jerry and he reveled in the fact by tossing firecrackers into Jerry's humble home*. Faced with no other option except moving out, Jerry reaches out to his cousin Muscles. Muscles lives in the bad part of town, but he spends his time beating up on the neighborhood cats making him a perfect candidate to take care of Tom. Tom is unwilling to admit that he can lose to a mouse, so he finds ways to get back at Muscles. When that fails he hires a group of cat gangsters. Who will come out on top in the end? Tom and Jerry is one of the most famous cartoon series, but even its most ardent supporters will confess that it's highly formulaic. I think Hanna and Barbera understood that o they gave some of the films a certain hook that will make it different. And Jerry's Cousin has one of the most interesting hooks in the series. And I don't mean Tom getting the upper hand over Jerry, although it's very unusual to see it happen, much less to the point where Jerry is afraid of Tom. No, instead it's the appearance of Muscles Mouse, the titular character and a rough tough supermouse. His ability to take hits and dish it out makes for some good opportunities for gags, and Hanna-Barbera do deliver. The scenes with Muscles beating up on Tom are classic Tom and Jerry: ultra-violent and physically impossible. It's probably good that Muscles was a one-shot character because of the possibility of his schtick getting old, but they got the most of him while he's around, and that makes Jerry's Cousin one of the more memorable Tom and Jerry shorts.

*I do think it's weird that Tom would destroy his own property when he had the upper hand. 

Where Can I Watch It?

Trouble Indemnity
The near-sighted Mr. Magoo is making a mess out in his yard when he is interrupted by the doorbell. He answers the door only to be bothered by an insurance agent. He kicks the man out but is quickly visited by a Rutgers alumni selling insurance. He quickly buys it up, not knowing that it is the same fellow, who works for a struggling insurance company. The insurance boss is overjoyed at the sale, but he is afraid of Magoo's risk, especially after they see him wandering around a construction site trying to collect on a claim for a dog bite. Can they keep him from killing himself? Mr. Magoo is perhaps the most famous character created by the UPA studios. He debuted in 1949 with the film Ragtime Bear directed by John Hubley. He became a hit with viewers for his crazy antics, and he soon became their premiere recurring character. The task of directing Magoo films soon fell to former MGM and Warner Bros. animator Pete Burness. Trouble Indemnity was Burness's first Magoo film, and it had many of the gags that made Magoo such a popular character. It begins with mostly commentary style gags where Magoo does things like mistake a coat rack for the person at the door. Those jokes were pretty well done and funny. It lead to the second half that is full of slapstick gags. Jokes at a construction site are quite old, having been present in films such as Building a Building and Rhapsody in Rivets, but the one in Trouble Indemnity are pretty funny even if they lack originality. The most impressive thing, however, is how Burness was able to turn seedy businessmen into rather sympathetic characters. You want Magoo to survive not because you like Magoo, but because you don't want to see those men go down. Maybe that's just me. Anyway, Trouble Indemnity is a good Mr. Magoo film that goes far to show how Mr. Magoo became such a popular character.
Where Can I Watch It? 
Unfortunately the only ones floating around online are dubbed in Portuguese. I've no idea why that is, but with the Mr. Magoo DVD set delayed and VHS copies hard to come by, they're all you're going to get. I'm sure Chris Sobieniak would come around with copies of the original English version, but until then this is all you'll be getting.

Well, here it is. The three nominees from 1950. Yeah, it's not quite All About Eve and Sunset Blvd., but they are still fine and entertaining films. While I really like Jerry's Cousin I don't think it hold a candle up to Gerald McBoing Boing. That film was so groundbreaking and so successful that there's no way the other two nominees can measure up. Apparently the Academy was also charmed by it, as it took home the well deserved Oscar.

My rankings (by quality)
Gerald McBoing Boing > Jerry's Cousin > Trouble Indemnity

My rankings (by preference)
Jerry's Cousin > Gerald McBoing Boing > Trouble Indemnity

1 comment:

  1. "Although its success would eventually lead to the prevalence of limited animation without the artistic vision of those at UPA, Gerald McBoing Boing was still a landmark film."

    It's a film that can be seen as a blessing and/or curse depending on how you view it. It's design and direction surely were felt well by the new medium of television that didn't play any part in the film at all, yet it showed a template that gave studios a path to go down in making economical, yet somehow effective animation such as with TV commercials and the eventual cartoon shows that followed.

    Aside from the 3 other shorts produced and a TV show that had him in name-only during the 50's, there was a sort of update series under his name that came out a decade back that was aimed more at a younger audience.

    "Jokes at a construction site are quite old, having been present in films such as Building a Building and Rhapsody in Rivets"

    Let's not forget the Fleischer Popeye cartoon "A Dream Walking", it is a very old premise.

    Noticing the Brazilian clip you show, I see they cut out the bit where Magoo comes into the house by breaking through a glass door (with making the comment only Magoo could deliver).