I watched all the UPA theatrical shorts back when I was writing Cartoon Modern, but seeing them restored on TCM’s new 3-DVD “Jolly Frolics” set has been an eye-opening experience. If there was ever any doubt about how progressive the studio was graphically, this set will dispel such notions. Immediately after UPA, the floodgates of animation design opened–by the mid-1950s, all varieties of graphic styles were being explored in TV advertising and industrial films, and soon after, European animation studios like Zagreb Film were out-UPAing UPA. The studio’s dominance lasted but only a short period, but UPA’s influence was lasting. It played a key role in pushing animation out of its cocoon, thus allowing it to evolve into the rich and diverse art form that it is today.
The director whose reputation will benefit most from this collection is Robert ‘Bobe’ Cannon. While his stories tend to be formulaic and thematically repetitive, often times it seemed like he was the only director at UPA who knew how to put together a coherent film. (A good deal of that credit also belongs to his close collaborator T. Hee, who wrote most of Cannon’s films.)
More than the stories though, it’s the way that Cannon animated characters, which looks even more refreshing today in light of all the generic Flash and After Effects animation. In Cannon’s work, the way a character moves is never separate from its design. Discovering a visually inventive way to animate a character from point A to point B is Cannon’s greatest strength. The two most famous films in the Cannon canon are Gerald McBoing Boing and Madeline, but his later efforts, especially Fudget’s Budget, Christopher Crumpet’s Playmate and The Jaywalker–all looking better than ever on this set–display remarkable confidence as a director.