Where Are the UPA Shorts?


If there’s one question I’ve received more frequently than any other since the release of Cartoon Modern, it’s “Where can I see the UPA films?” There’s a lot of Golden Age animation being released onto dvd this year (Droopy, Popeye, Lantz cartoons, Tom and Jerry, etc.) but the catalog of classic cartoons produced by United Productions of America (UPA) during the 1950s remains completely off the radar. The studio produced just over ninety shorts and these films have not enjoyed a major release since a series of VHS tapes released the late-’80s.

It’s depressing that the only suggestion I can offer to folks looking for these films is to search for twenty-year-old out of print VHS tapes. I think it’s about time that Columbia pulled together a decent box set of all of the studio’s shorts, a package that gives us the classic characters (Gerald McBoing Boing, Mister Magoo, the Fox and Crow) along with the studio’s groundbreaking one-shot shorts (The Unicorn in the Garden, The Tell-Tale Heart, Rooty Toot Toot, The Jaywalker and Madeline). Until then, you can find some of the UPA shorts on video sharing sites. I’ve included links to all the ones I could find below, though unfortunately, if there’s one animation studio whose work doesn’t deserve to be seen in this crummy compressed Flash format, it’s the graphically intensive filmmaking of UPA.

Robin Hoodlum (1948)
The Magic Fluke (1949)
Gerald McBoing Boing (1951)
Rooty Toot Toot (1952)
The Tell-Tale Heart (1953)
Christopher Crumpet (1953)
The Unicorn in the Garden (1953)
Ballet-Oop (1954)
The Rise of Duton Lang (1955)

  • I know at least some of these films are packaged as extras on Universal films. Most of the Gerald McBoingBoing shorts are on Hellboy, for instance, and I think the Tell-Tale Heart is on there, too.

  • Chris Robinson

    course, you can always haul ass to Ottawa this year for our 4-part U.P.A. retrospective.

  • Cyber Fox

    It’s a shame cable tv channels don’t air cartoons like these anymore!

  • Paul

    It’s a shame Cartoon Network doesn’t air cartoons anymore…

  • I never paid attention to UPA animation until my animation class at school. I was really impressed! It is a shame that these are not more widely available.

  • Madeline is also a bonus on the Live-Action Madeline feature. The 4 Gerald Mc-Boing Boing shorts were also released on DVD on their own to tie into the then-new Gerald McBoing Boing TV show on Cartoon Network

    Personally, I think that Republic’s stash of Max Fleischer and Famous Studios shorts have gotten shabbier treatment than the UPA shorts, since they don’t even show up as Bonus Shorts on Live-action DVDs

  • I’m pretty repulsed by most of the UPA cartoons and the style it inspired but the fans of it should be able to see them on DVD.

    Actually, a DVD release of the UPA cartoons would be great, because now with most of the studios releasing their libraries to home video, even the best of UPA’s material will pale in comparison to the Warner, MGM, Disney, Lantz, and Fleischer cartoons also readily available.

    Oh and Madeline sucks.

  • Steve Burstein

    I remember that I was puzzled that only the bad Magoo TV cartoons were in the syndication package, but not the better theatricals.I later figured that it was a rights issue.

  • I think the nefarious John K. is to blame. Renowned for his detesting of those flat, unfunny animated films (don’t let him hear you call them “cartoons”!) John has obviously got some sort of dirt on the guy who’s in charge of the UPA titles, thus blackmailing him into keeping a tight lid on them. I just know it’s John’s doing – has to be….

    Nyuk nyuk nyuk :)

  • Steve Gattuso

    Given that Sony was willing to go to the effort of restoring the Scrappy cartoons, I imagine the UPA shorts should be next on their radar.

  • Perhaps Sony/Columbia will release a complete UPA DVD set to complement their new forays into feature animation like “Surfs Up” and “Open Season”, plenty of room for cross-promotion I would think. Also could tie into the UPA documentary film now in production.

    There are also some worthy pre-UPA “Fox and Crow’s” Columbia put out directed by Frank Tashlin that could use similar treatment.

  • Rob T.

    Amen to that! A complete set of the UPA theatrical shorts would top my list of “must-buy” DVD’s the minute it was released.

    (And now I need to click on the link to “The Magic Fluke”, the one film listed above that I haven’t seen yet….)

  • Thad Komorowski – repulsed?? You aren’t required to enjoy everything, but “repulsed”?!
    Care to shed some light on why these films offend your artistic sensibilities so much?

  • Thanks to your book Cartoon Modern, the graphic style of UPA is even more in the public eye than before. While at Sony for a brieff time working in restoration I approached my boss about resmastering and restoring the UPA library, but never heard back from him. It’s not that Sony restoration would not be into the idea of doing this, it is convincing their Home Ent. dept that it is worth it. I really think UPA’s style and animation is more relavent today than it has been in a long time. I would really love to find out how often UPA cartoons are downloaded and/or viewed on the net becuase this would be a good way to gauge their popularity and perhaps give Sony Home Ent a reason to green light the money to restore, remaster and release them on DVD.

  • amid

    Thad wrote, “I’m pretty repulsed by most of the UPA cartoons and the style it inspired but the fans of it should be able to see them on DVD.”

    Don’t worry Thad. You’ll come to appreciate fine art as you grow older and learn to see. Well, either that, or you’ll become John K. :-)

  • I feel that the UPA cartoons are not fine art, most are pretentious novelties that have dated really badly. The term ‘fine art’ being applied to animation just comes off as really pretentious to me to begin with, but that’s just me.

    Elliot Cowan, I’ve written at length on my blog why I have disdain for the UPA cartoons, though I’d much rather write about which cartoons I like (or work constructively on new cartoons) than which ones I dislike.

  • I’ve got the DVDs for MADELINE and HELLBOY (the latter includes GERALD McBOING BOING, HOW NOW BOING BOING, GERALD McBOING BOING ON THE PLANET MOO [In Widescreen!!!], and THE TELL-TALE HEART). This DVD is easily still available. Since I was already interested in HELLBOY (I was familiar with the Mike Mignola comic), I was even more intrigued to hear that director Guillermo del Toro, who was a fan of the cartoons, wanted to include them on the DVD release (they’re in the “Hellboy Recommends” section on Disc 1)!

  • I’m going to assume the Hellboy DVD doesn’t still go for $100 and up on Amazon.

  • chris

    I worked on the Gerald Mc Boing Boing tv series, and even we couldn’t get a decent copy of the original shorts. They could only found some really bad VHS tape copy. Until one day one of the animators brought in the movie “Hellboy” !

  • “The term ‘fine art’ being applied to animation just comes off as really pretentious to me to begin with, but that’s just me”

    Perhaps it is this attitude that has dragged things down rather than UPA…

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Amid said:
    > Don’t worry Thad. You’ll come to appreciate fine art as you grow older and learn to see. Well, either that, or you’ll become John K. :-)

    For me (being 29), my feelings for UPA are more in the favor category for having had the opportunity to see their work early on thanks to those VHS releasers in the early 80’s (mainly Mr. Magoo, hadn’t seen the one-shots until their Nick airings in the mid 90’s), and for having a mom who grew up when UPA was at its peak, and would often hear about Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing-Boing all the time. Growing up more an artist personally, I could also relate to what those guys were trying to do on those films aside from trying to break away from the usual slapstick humor seen before.

    Still need to pick up your book someday Amid!

  • Cowan,
    Cartoons are not going to change the world and are only good to get a laugh out of. That was the attitude in the 30s and 40s and the best stuff was done then, so that can’t possibly be why things went downhill.

    The occupation of animator/cartoonist is being blown to a mythological level these days.

  • Thad,
    I know what you mean. My partner in my old animation studio used to say it stood for Under Produced Animation. I remember when I was small and these cartoons came out, the critics seem to relish in exalting them at the expense of classic animation, reducing Disney to creating “fuzzy bunnies”. Personally I love classic UPA; ironically, I think the best “UPA” cartoon was created by Ward Kimball at Disney, “Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom”. Of course he was inspired by Hubley and Cannon and company.

  • “Cartoons are not going to change the world and are only good to get a laugh out of”

    They may not change the world but I stand by my last comment regarding the second part of your sentence.

  • Arnaud

    “Cartoons are not going to change the world”

    Oh dear ! UPA cartoons were supposed to change the world ? They sure failed at it but at least they were great lookin’.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    >> “Cartoons are not going to change the world�

    > Oh dear ! UPA cartoons were supposed to change the world ? They sure failed at it but at least they were great lookin’.

    That statement made me think of the way some guys out there want to think anime changed the world, when in fact, after watching all of “Evangelion” years ago, it did a lot to change my views of what I liked/thought/learned about getting into anime in the first place, and I can never fully watch that show again since I now know the UGLY TRUTH! (really, that show sucked) :-)

  • Chuck R.

    Is it even fair to say “I love” or “I hate” UPA cartoons? They’re all so different. Sometimes I think it’s weird to even talk of a UPA “style”. Tell-Tale Heart is one of my favorite shorts of all times. I can take or leave Unicorn In The Garden (I blame Thurber more than Cannon.)

    I’m not sure any art “changes the world” per se, but like architecture, ID, and graphics, animated films will be around long after we’re dead and will continue to speak volumes about the culture of our times. Popular art does this far better than fine art, which is why I read this blog in the first place.

    I don’t know anything about Evangelion.

  • The UPA shorts stood at a turning point in animation. The industry was looking for ways to produce cheaper and quicker to produce footage. As my buddy Tim at work put it, they certainly came up with interesting ways to do that and I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. The designs are always appealing and easy on the line mileage so a small team of animators can get the job done and still keep it quirky and interesting. While I don’t put these shorts on as high a pedestal as some do, I can certainly appreaciate what the UPA gang accomplished.


    Am I the only one here with the VOOM Animania Channel? They air an incredible mix of UPA cartoons (in HD no less!) every single night. Their website only mentions Dick Tracy and Mr. Magoo but what they do is show a couple of those cartoons and then a nice mix of other random UPA classics like Fox and Crow and of course Gerald McB and everything else under the UPA banner. They also show Pink Panther and the color Felix the Cat series. This channel is great in the evening, but during the day it’s like a Cartoon Network style nightmare of newly produced unwatchables. Here’s the link: http://www.voom.com/vhdo/anim/classics.jsp

  • OliverB

    I’m really looking forward to the documentary film, “UPA: Mavericks, Magic & Magoo” that’s currently in production – you can read more about it at http://www.UPAPIX.com

    I’m hoping that once it’s completed and finds stateside distribution and is eventually and assumably prepped for DVD release, that the people behind it will be able to license a number of lesser-seen and commercial shorts along with the best of the Jolly Frolics series, to include with a bonus disc for release.

    I don’t understand why licensing these cartoons out to another studio or independant company would be a problem since Sony/Columbia Pictures obviously has no intentions of doing anything with these films and haven’t promoted these characters or works in over a decade, if not longer.

    It really is a shame that these are not more widely available and better recognized today. They are among the greatest animated shorts ever made and despite what others have commented here, most certainly are art.

  • Bill

    re:karswell voom – So far I’ve seen 34 different Columbia shorts and 70 UPA. I’m having a hard time with their aspect ratio. I’m pretty sure they did NOT air the widescreen McBoingBoing widescreen (on Planet Moo), it is on the dvd (I believe it was also edited on Animania) but the 16(?) Scope Magoo’s might actually be shown wide and not stretched or otherwise distorted. I just can’t tell. By my count, only 6 of the UPA’s I haven’t seen there yet aren’t available on tape.
    With the release of Uncle Sam Magoo, “the Complete Series” (and THERE’s a title with next to no publicity that it’s out there – 2 years late), a few from “What’s New, Mr. Magoo” to dvd, one would think “Famous Adventures of Mr Magoo” (many on vhs, many in several compilations) would be in the works. I found Frankenstein to be quite good and Dick Tracy a very odd cross-over.

  • Carlos

    I`ve been carefully reading all of your comments. And I think we are all looking for a complete collection of UPA cartoons in a DVD format.
    The quality, simplicity and spirit that these cartoons have, make them unique .

    In my personal opinion I believe that the best episodes are those from Jolly Frolics . ( like The man on the flying trapeze). A mention apart is needed for “The Tell Tale Heart” cartoon, a master piece. In the same direction I would like to know if any of you have ever seen a tv show called Alfred Hitchcock presents, in which, a cartoon of Hitchcock used to presents a masterpiece of the literature in a cartoon format, for instance, The Pendulus, and if so, have any of you guys where can I get it ?

  • Arielle

    >>The UPA shorts stood at a turning point in animation. The industry was looking for ways to produce cheaper and quicker to produce footage.

    In response to what Frank Summers says:

    I don’t know if you actually know the history of UPA…but they actually did not use the ‘limited’ animation style to cut back on costs. UPA went bankrupt from spending so much money on their cartoons. I happen to think that most of the cartoons UPA produced were extremely eccentric and intellectual. Most people just don’t take the time out to appreciate the work these animators put into these cartoons.

  • Zoran Taylor

    I love cartoons, but I can’t stand the discourse about them on the net. Forget, for a moment, about all the animated garbage we’ve had to look at all these years. Forget that fun-hating “artists” embraced UPA’s style and ruined cartoons. Here in the present day, where a nineteen-year-old eccentric like me can dig up classic animation without the need to value it based on it’s history, there is nothing more depressing than knowing that, as an aspiring animator, I’m gonna be going into a field run by either a) the same boring jerks and idiots you’d expect, or b) people whose bitterness and resentment at the unfortunate legacy of UPA has been boiling for so long that it can only explode, rendering the idea of taking oneself “seriously” not just a tricky equation full of pitfalls, which is what it is, but a downright SIN. All I can say is, so what if I feel like doing something with a “point”? Would you judge it based on just that, BEFORE seeing the results and deciding whether they are also entertaining? If you told Clampett, THE ultimate lord and master of unfettered wackyness and fun, that cartoons “can’t change anything” in 1943, he would say “not if I can help it.” Y’know how there was a war going on? And they were making a LOT of cartoons about it? “Any Bonds Today”? ‘member that? I think it worked. A lot of historians would agree with me.

    And let’s be clear here: I am NOT advocating another avalanche of depressing garbage. I just think cartoonists should be left to their own devices to express themselves ANY way that they want. Take out the executive meddling, take out the bandwagon-jumping, “house style” mentality, and the chances are extremely good that MOST of what comes out will be funny, thoughtful, funny, cool, funny, serious, funny…..cartoonists are not the ones who forget to stay funny. It’s the people controlling them. When the system is working, you can add to a medium without diluting it. Genuine innovation by real artists who love what they do will produce 90% good work that serves it’s original purpose, period. Stop taking fun so seriously. It’s a drag, man.

  • Zoran Taylor

    By the way, just to illustrate my point, here’s an actual quote from Bob Clampett from an interview with Michael Barrier: “Just as people whistled the tune from Disney’s “Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?” in the dark days of the depression, Bugs Bunny was a symbol of America’s resistance to Hitler and the fascist powers. In both instances, we were in a fight for our lives, and it is most difficult now to comprehend the tremendous emotional impact Bugs Bunny exerted on the audience back then.”

    Hmmm….so I guess it turns out that the fun, silly Clampett we thought we knew was actually a boring, pretentious intellectual! Whaddya know, Doc?

  • Can anyone say whether the Gerald McBoing Boings are any better looking on “Cartoon Adventures Starring Gerald McBoing Boing” than they are on the Hellboy DVD, or if the same remastered versions are used for both?

  • As a warning to everyone to everyone else, the UK and Italian DVD of Hellboy has Gerald McBoing! Boing! on Planet Moo pan and scanned to 4:3!

  • I am looking for prints of the animated films UPA made for CBS in the 1950s: “Tune in Tomorrow” (CBS-TV, 1954), “It’s Time for Everybody” (CBS Radio, 1953), “More Than Meets the Eye” (CBS Radio, 1952), and at least one animated ad from the same period for CBS-Hytron tubes. Please contact me via email at [email protected] if you have these for sale or know where I might purchase them.

  • oh. THEM again.

    Re: “I think it’s about time Columbia pulled together a decent box set”….

    yes, but Columbia is really SONY, and SONY SUCKS.

    Sony is incapable of following through with something simple, like timely, consecutive releases of a TV show’s seasons; in some cases they just abandon further releases completely. It seems unlikely the UPA material will ever see release to home video unless the Columbia library is acquired by more visionary owners.

  • edwinstrout