UPA’S TELL TALE HEART

I guess there is no escaping the fact that it’s UPA week here at CARTOON BREW and on Amid’s CARTOON MODERN (Mike Sporn’s Splog has even jumped on the bandwagon).

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We will be screening UPA’s classic THE TELL TALE HEART (1953) on Sunday evening at the Egyptian. It’s a masterpiece for several reasons – the storytelling in limited animation, James Mason’s powerful vocal track and, of course, Paul Julian’s incredible colors, layouts, and paintings. THE TELL TALE HEART was filmed in 3-D, but for reasons lost to time, was not released this way. (No 3-D prints or dual negatives have ever been found – I suspect they never got to Columbia Pictures in the first place. Perhaps some unopened UPA storage locker in Burbank contains the missing negative.) By 1953 the UPA studio was at its height artistically, and was the darling of the critics (and the Academy) for starting an artistic revolution – moving Hollywood cartoons away from rounded Disney animals to angular human characters and modern design. THE TELL TALE HEART was certainly something different. Not since Fleischer’s SUPERMAN series had animated shorts tackled a dramatic story. This was not only a drama – it was an Edgar Allen Poe horror film. And the media took notice – most notably with a four-page story in Time Magazine and a four-page color spread in LIFE. Columbia gave it a full scale publicity push, with newspaper advertising (above) and a modest trade campaign for the Oscar. THE TELL TALE HEART was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to Disney’s “UPA-influenced” TOOT WHISTLE PLUNK AND BOOM. The casting of a major A-list Hollywood actor, James Mason, was certainly a coup for UPA, and speaks to the studio’s status as an industry player at that time. Only Disney had used such stunt casting in the past, and mainly for their feature films.TELL TALE HEART built on the innovations of GERALD MCBOING BOING, ROOTY TOOT TOOT, and the creation of Mr. Magoo. While it didn’t lead to further dramatic Hollywood cartoon shorts, its influence is still felt in numerous ways, in numereous international and independent films produced since. And that’s why it’s a classic.

The film can be seen this Sunday at the UPA Tribute at the Egyptian Theatre in LA.