Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wally Walrus VS UPA part 1.


I've been watching a lot of Lantz cartoons lately, particularly the late 40s films. These cartoons sort of represent full animation's last gasp before the 50s when flatter, stiffer, less animated cartoons became the style.

At Warner's in the late 40s, Jones was making his funniest films, but his animation style had already become less fully animated. His animators were mainly traveling from one Chuck Jones pose to another, but the stories Jones was directing were less geared towards allowing the animators to be the stars of the show, as they were just a few years earlier.

It depends.

Lantz had a really interesting studio. It didn't have a central style or any major creative force directing the overall studio philosophy or style. Having no strong central control I think in his case was a really good thing.

Disney on the other hand, was a studio completely controlled by his personal taste - his naive ultra-Christian bumpkin point of view. There wasn't much room for his animators to do their thing. They had to second guess or follow Walt's every kitschy tasteless whim.

Warner Bros. was also a "control" studio, but the control was split up between very different directors. Each director had free reign (as long as he made funny films) to do his cartoons the way he wanted.

Total strict control can be good or bad, depending on who's doing the controlling.


Chuck Jones and Walt Disney both exercised extreme control over their films. The difference between them is that Chuck had talent and Walt didn't. Chuck could actually do most of the things he was asking his artists to do. Walt couldn't. He had to talk them through it. He couldn't do the drawings or stage the scenes or time the cartoons. All he could do was restrict his artists from exercising what magic, personal abilities and surprises they might have had. Disney bent everyone to his will and poor artistic taste. His philosophy is he didn't want anyone or any idea to stand out:

"We allow no geniuses around our Studio."
Walt Disney

Clampett had a very different type of control over his cartoons. He could draw and had a really strong personal style, but instead of forcing his crew to draw and think just like him, he inspired everyone to add their own personal inspirations and quirks to his cartoons. They combined their styles with his. Clampett gave people the context to work within and he creatively cast his artists and managed to get everyone to do the best work of their careers. McKimson did better animation in Clampett's cartoons than he did in his own! Clampett unleashed the amazing creative powers of Rod Scribner, while every other director tried to tone him down. Mel Blanc did his best voices for Clampett. Stalling did his best music.

Clampett's style of control, to me is the optimal way to make cartoons...BUT! We need another way too. The random uncontrolled studio way.


There were so many extremely talented and skilled animators in the 30s and 40s that it would be a shame not to have ways to let them all explore what they themselves could invent if they were let loose and didn't have to be slaves to trends. Too much control over talent can lose a lot of great ideas and personal inspirations.

Luckily for history there were some studios that had great talent coming through them and no one putting the clamps on them. Terrytoons and Walter Lantz are 2 of those studios.

Jim Tyer could never have done his kind of animation at any other place but Terry's.


Even at Famous his stuff seems toned down, as if someone is really leaning on him to try to be normal. At Terry's, as long as you made your footage quota each week, you could do your own style and he sure did!

Walter Lantz himself, was probably not super talented, but he was a cartoonist and animator who obviously loved his profession and loved other cartoonists. Animators from all over the cartoon business would take breaks from other more controlled studios and work for awhile at Lantz. His directors were not strong visionaries or personalities and the cartoons that came out of Lantz' studio-especially in the 1940s are basically the products of the animators' personal styles. All kinds of different styled animators worked on the cartoons in various orders and the cartoons all look different.

The Lantz cartoons aren't really funny, not like Warner's or Tex Avery, they are basically fun stuff for kids. But some of the most fun cartoony full animation in history happened under this loose system.

Dick Lundy probably was the director with the most personal style or look of his own and you can see that he did a lot of the poses, but he still let the animators put their own personal stamps on the animation.

Stars like Grim Natwick, Freddie Moore, Ed Love, Pat Matthews and many more all had wildly different personal styles and they all obviously liked full animation for its own sake. They liked to make the movement itself shine. Under more restrictive directors, they didn't always do their best stuff, but at Lantz you can see these great full-animators doing beautiful, sometimes funny, but very lush and creative animation that just rejoices in the art of the animator. Not the art of the director, not the art of the writer, not even the art of the layout pose artist. The sheer joy of fun appealing character movement and cartoon magic. Which is what cartoon animation is primarily about.

Chuck Jones explains:

In 1948, Lantz made a whole pile of beautiful, fully animated cartoon classics, all featuring virtuoso performances by some of the all time great animators.


Now compare that scene to what happened to cartoons just 2 years later.


That's a UPA cartoon. Doesn't it make you wanna kill yourself? After a couple decades of really fun, upbeat cartoons that brought a new form of art into the world - complete magic designed to make you happy, now we have depressing downbeat dreary, creatively stifled drizzle. WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED? I have a new theory about it.

To be continued...



Tibby said...

Wow - that UPA cartoon made me want to stab my own eyeballs out. The animation in it was smooth - but GAWD!! BORING!! It was just like that Fosters Friends cartoon. Even kids hate it!

Uhm ... sorry - I too have a grudge against todays flat and boring cartoons.

Oh to work with those guys back in the day would have been the shiznit. But alas - those days are gone, and most of those old duffers are probably pooing in their pants in some retirement home.

It is up to us as the new artists to rise up and bring life and creativity back into cartoons. I realize this. I wish to my biggest heart that I could work with you, or under Mr. Antonucci, or someone who still believe in cartoons being expression and fun and original.

Well - I'll do my part by learning from you Mr. K. And making my own cartoons and continuing to raise my skills. And Disney has nothing to do with it. Disney is, and always has been - the supreeme evil.

PCUnfunny said...

What happened ? I think what happened is we live an age where we want to depress ourselves. Why do we depress ourselves ? Because we insist on watching in all sorts of media how much the world sucks and we become depressed and sesitive.I would say this started to happen during the Veitnam era, the first war to be heavily veiwed on television. The world needs to learn how to laugh again.

Thomas said...

One of the greatest anti-marriage films ever made. One wonders why, since the unicorn's horn is described twice as being 'golden', UPA painted the thing red.

Lyris said...

It's the colour that I hate the most in that UPA clip. It's painful to look at.

By the way John, where is that Chuck Jones text taken from - is it a book? I'm planning on writing a Dissertation at University about how cartoons have got screwed up and I'd love to know the name of it.

Jennifer said...

Funny you should post this - a number of these UPA cartoons are in the "Something Weird" section in the Comcast On Demand service. The "Something Weird" section is not supposed to be flattering - it's supposed to be something camp that the viewers can heckle.

- J

Jim Rockford said...
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Jim Rockford said...

Upa did destroy the cartoon world,its pretty easy to see how their "limited animation" style is
responsible for the crappy cartoons from the late 60's,70's and 80's . Hanna Barberra,Filmation,etc all seemed to adopt the limited animation style and take it to its most severe and unwatchable form.
How did this ever happen? I mean surely they must have realized they were turning out unwatchable mind numbing crap,but man it seemed like it just became the standard and we suffered through it ever since.
I can see why you hated working in animation in its darkest years.
for the most part though we still get dull,boring,cartoons still.

peldma3 said...

I don't go for that it's cool and worldly to be negatiive and depressed posturing... It just seems pretty basic that it's good to be happy and sad to be sad. And that's why people latched onto Spongebob.. it was fun and funny.

also I think the MGM cartoons and the Walter Lantz cartoons had the best color.. some of those Tom and Jerrys', such rich lush backrounds.

Jim Rockford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sean said...

the UPA one is different thats for sure, to be honest though, it seems like they are trying to do 2 different things. sure the UPA one is kind of dreary, but thats kinda whats nice about it. its dry, where as the other is goofy. I think the backgrounds are wuite nice in the UPA one. but the movements are lacking. the wally one has nice movement to it, and the characters are fun, But do you think that the story in the UPA cartoon would be approprite for animation like the other? i feel like all the goofyness could take away from the story somewhat.

I.D.R.C. said...

I think if I had been working as an animator in the '40's, by 1960 I would've been contemplating suicide.

UPA would seem to qualify as "artistic experiment," but how it became the prevailing motif I cannot fathom. I guess it just got connected to the postwar atomic age aesthetic. Your theory is probably deeper.

There are definitely more intersting examples of the flat crappy style than this Thurber snoozefest. But even this is more happy to be a cartoon than most current stuff.

rex said...

Amazing post, John!
The Jim Tyer clip is crazy!!
I love cartoons with no authority!

katzenjammer studios said...

Wow, great post. I've gotta get my hands on some older Lantz stuff.

I just got some Burt Gilett shorts from Van Buren. Like thems at all, John?

Ardy said...

Walt Disney tortured his animators to the point where they didn't even realize that their jobs could be fun. So, since they hated their lives and jobs so much, they realized it wouldn't even be worth the effort to draw full, well-thought out animation if it was going to turn out as boring as Disney wanted it. And UPA was born. The animators thought it was a big "fuck you" to Walt, but really it was just a big "fuck you" to the audience. They thought it was more "experimental" and "creative," but without basic construction neither terms can even apply. It was just an exercise in stupidity. Now some people go around calling it "real art" as though everything that was done before it was just some kind of money making perversion for children.

That's my theory anyway.

JP said...

Quick note about the UPA cartoon -- It looks the way it does as they're trying to emulate Thurber's scratchy, scrawly cartooning style.

Thurber lost an eye as a youth, and later in life was nearly blind so his cartooning got progressively worse (not to say that it was any good to begin with, but that's just his style).

I'd link to some examples, but they're pretty easy to find.

Michael J. Ruocco said...

Yeah, whatever happened to "quality, not quantity"? Today's shows are so flat & uninspiring (except a select few). I even miss the 90's cartoons. Why did executives have to ruin all our fun?

Rob said...

That UPA is shit all around. It looks like 5 year olds drew it using their feet.

Paulrus said...


Don't you understand? That cartoon was meant to be CHORTLED at, not laughed at. You're supposed to sip brandy by the fire while watching this amusing cartoon and discussing how hilarious the latest comic in the New Yorker is.

It's squarely aimed at people who wear corduroy jackets with leather patches on the elbows and smoke pipes.

You know, people without any sense of humor at all.


SugarPete said... suprising that you picked the most boring UPA cartoon to illustrate your point.

What about comparing Wally to UPA's Rooty Toot Toot or to Gerald McBoing Boing?

Both stylish films with lots of fun inventive animation.

JohnK said...

I was gonna put those in my next posts. They work just as well.

Gabriel said...

I remember seeing some UPA stuff that kinda looked good, despite the boring story...

Gabriel said...

oh, and i like the gene deitch tom & jerrys, the czech ones, that move weird and shake all over the place. I think i'm the only person on earth who likes those. I notice they carry some quirks that might be traced back to UPA, don't they?

Mr. Semaj said...

After so long, I finally got to see the so-called classic called The Unicorn in the Garden.

UPA was sorta like the animation equivalent of the modernistic painting movement that took off around the same time. John Hubley and William Hurtz were on the same plane as Jackson Pollock and Piet Mondrian.
Their animation "experiments" were just that. Throw out a percentage of the fundamentals - perspective, construction, and anticipation, then it doesn't work as well.

On a lighter note, someone needs to explain Jim Tyer's process. If only he or someone who knew him would've lived long enough to tell his secrets.

Zaki from Malaysia said...

UPA aside, I think what JohnK's pointing out is that in animation, teamwork matters, and that animators must value the efforts & talent of their fellow colleagues involved. More than that, animators should allow their colleagues, crew members etc. to run wild with they've got and want to do.

There's a standard thinking that in a group, each individual must conform uniformly to the group's standards so as to maintain order and avoid chaos.

However, a group should've value every individuals' uniqueness and allow that to contribute to the group.

And that's what Lantz & Clampett has done.

Can that really be possible in the Internet age?

juvenile_cyle said...

I didn't even know they made crap like that. Thanks for opening my eyes and I can't wait to read your theory.

Jim Rockford said...

I agree with you ,that Upa cartoon was horrible and depressing.
James Thurbers work seems an unlikey choice for an animated short,they obviously selected it because they were trying to seem intellectual and was like an animated "New Yorker" cartoon.
Whats worse is that the UPA "limited animation"style caught on as being avant garde and artistic and spread like wildfire throughout the industry.
It all seemed a little pretentious to me,but everyone copied that style.
they werent focused on being funny anymore,but being urbane and pseudo intellectual,and focusing on the "sick,sick,sick" Jules Fieffer introspective social commentary that was in vogue at the time.Munro is an excellent example of this type of cartoon.
I'm not saying their isnt a place for that style of animation but it was taken too seriously and became trendy and hip and copied by everyone.Upa is responsible for all the horrible limited animation cartoons that flood the market through the 70's to the present.
I read that the magoo cartoons cost were cheaper to make but the studio was getting paid as much as the older full animated cartoons.
Even Disney got into the upa look with "toot,whistle plunk and boom" etc.
I believe Gene Dietch even commented UPA cartoons had "snob appeal"

Love those old Woodys!

P.S. I agree with poster Tibby,I cant stand "fosters home" either,its boring as it stays on is a mystery to me.

Great blog,such a wealth of info.
I look forward to hearing you theory on the whole UPA scene.

Kali Fontecchio said...

There's something innately depressing about UPA as well. Something about a yellow background with black lines that really depressed me as a kid, and still now.

Wally Walrus on the other hand, I don't really like him compared to other characters, but he sure does has some great animation sometimes, from Ed Love and Grim Natwick etc.

So Wally Walrus vs. UPA......I guess Wally wins!

I keep hearing, "meet my boss Walter Lantz" I think we've been pretty Woody-heavy lately haha.

Hammerson said...

By the way John, where is that Chuck Jones text taken from - is it a book? <<

It was taken from an article written by Chuck Jones in 1964. Mark Mayerson posted the complete article on his blog. HERE is the link.

Scott said...

"Walt Disney tortured his animators to the point where they didn't even realize that their jobs could be fun"

Will you people ever give it a rest? Do some research and reading before you start slinging the mud around, because it's getting very tiresome.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Depressing and dreary are the words for it alright! Just listen to the music on the Thurber cartoon! It makes me want to commit suicide!

UPA signaled the beginning of design emphasis over animation emphasis. That's tragic because the true heart of the animation industry is animation.

clint said...

John, I feel so dirty and stupid, because I like some of the over-simplified crap you mention. And I don't disagree that the 30's and 40's stuff is so much more full, but some of the 'flat' stuff still attracts me like a Wal-mart whore. (Maybe because it is just easier to draw.) Is there any flat crap you think does a good job?

Does your distaste for the 50's + style transfer to 'fine (ah-hem) art' as well? Do you believe someone like Jackson Pollock (as opposed to Caraaggio) and a lot of other modern painters suffer from an inescapeable lack of skill - no matter how they try to philosophize there way out of it?

dan said...

This makes me think of the KRS One line from the song "Free Mumia"

Never in your life should you disrespect an artist

Jim Rockford said...

"Will you people ever give it a rest? Do some research and reading before you start slinging the mud around, because it's getting very tiresome"

How is this "mudslinging"? Its a well know fact that Disney himself had very little talent,yet excercised complete control over his staff,forcing them to do things his conservative backward way.
John K. even posted some articles with Disneys stupid qoutes which clearly display his rigid thoughts about his brand of cartoons,so I'd hardly call this mudslinging.
I've seen most of the old Disney cartoons and they arent funny at all.
All this was to illustrate the point that cartoonists need to be allowed to be creative and funny to produce something entertaining to watch.
Walt ran his studio like Ford ran his car factory,its the same conservative small mindset as "any color as longs as its black"

thank God everyone doesnt have that narrow,dull mindset!

clint said...

But that Disney's choice. It was his name. His company. And that kind of mindset is as typical with corporations today as it was then. You want something different start your own company your own way and quit pissing around about how Blah Blah Blah did this and Blah Blah did that - shutup and get to work,

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else think those Lantz pigs look cooler and more appealing than Porky ever did? I think it's the curved taper in their chins and small necks.

John, speaking of cartoons that make you contemplate suicide, somebody posted Chuck Jones' UPA-esque "Now Hear This" cartoon on youtube. Although I think this is funnier and more entertaining than anything UPA ever did, I still gotta ask; How did he go from The Dover Boys to THAT garbage!?!?

PCUnfunny said...

Jorge: It's no mystery what happened to Jones. By the late fifties,he was less interested in being a cartoonist and more interested in being Mark Twain-esque humorist.

Roberto González said...

I think I had never watched an entire UPA cartoon before...I'm sorry, I actually liked it. I mean, it was extremely slow paced and boring sometimes, yes, and the music is very depressing...but I think it's trying to be more depressing than funny. I like the woman character's expressions.

Now...after this I went and watched Gerald McBoing Boing on youtube, and it was ok, but it was not very funny compared to the 40's funny stuff. And it's kinda boring to see more than one cartoon with these type of colors.

One was ok, for a change. Now, after two of these cartoons I see the style really gets old quickly.
So my opinion about this, I guess, it's experimentation is fine, but you should keep the variety and the good old stuff at the same time. It's like cinema. That whole nouvelle vague thing in France. Some of those movies are extremely boring, others are great. The ones that I like it's because they have the elements that'd make any good movie:a interesting story, good actors...But if you have the innovation but not the skills or the content, if you are only copy one thing cause it's the trend...that usually equals poor artistic results.

Oh, I liked Jones' "Now Hear This". Never seen that before either. I think this one is a lot more entertaining than UPA: the character design is good and they are way more expressive, the few colors that it uses are more vivid too and the music is more lively. It could have done without the moral, though. It seems adding a moral to the story was also a UPA trend.

Horrrst said...

As much as I love James Thurber, I never thought animating his stuff did much for it. For that matter I always thought UPA was over-rated junk, (mind you I grew up in the 60's & 70's when UPA was the only animation given any sort of serious cred to. Thank god them days is over!) UPA not only ruined animation (by treating the screen as a wall instead of a window), they also took down great ex-full animators like Bobe Cannon and turned them into zombies.

But by Yimminy vatching dat vild and vacky valrus viggle vas vonderful, ja shuure! Tanks Mister Kartoonman.

pappy d said...

The biggest factor to explain UPA was the coming of TV. Suddenly, there was a tremendous surge in demand for animation & most of the production values from good cartoons would be lost on a crappy little 9-inch B&W screen.

I'm not calling Bill M. a liar, but the idea that limited animation isn't cheaper doesn't make sense (unless you're paying your artists better). The market for kids' entertainment was undergoing a frantic race for the bottom. No one wants to make product for a demographic that's so chronically unemployed. Lucky for producers they also lack critical faculties, are inarticulate & physically unimposing, so the quality sank as the profits rose.

Limited animation kind of suits the dry, gentle whimsy of the UPA product. Once it became acceptable to the public, Bill & Joe came along with a dream (as it says in their book) "to make animated cartoons cheaper". They hired Mike Lah to come up with a formula for production line animation & Ruff & Reddy was born.

The public got used to the total lack of visual interest in cartoons during the run of the first primetime series. Now, in pursuit of their dream, they were free to factor out the wit as well.

While kids had no disposable income to speak of, they did have boundless energy with which to pester their moms for product in the supermarket. The networks had a mandate to air children's programming so they needed filler between sugared cereal & toy commercials. It literally didn't matter what it looked like if it kept the kids tuned in for the shorter but higher-quality Tony-the-tiger cartoons.

We were spared the economically fruitless "playing outside" & Bill & Joe's dream lives on.

Alexandra said...

Well... this is a heated topic because there are always the animators that swear by Disney and others that just swear at him.

I think Disney set an important precedent in the animation industry, which John K illustrated on a more recent post. Yeah he was a dictator but it was HIS studio! The animators there could have left whenever they wanted (and some did to form the mess known as UPA). But I urge all the Disney-haters to please remember that the Disney animators of the 30s and 40s were responsible for making animation more of an art form, with the principles of animation (squash, stretch, yadda yadda etc.) Before that, cartoons weren't believable! Yes, Disney definitely strayed into realism more than some people would have liked, but dammit I believe his cartoons when they move around! Same thing I admire about Pixar.

The more "experimental" cartoons lack this believability in movement and expression. Again, I understand they were creating these cartoons for television, so there were many time constraints and the like, but that doesn't excuse poor quality animation. In fact, many cartoons out now suck. Not concept wise (maybe), but the movement makes me gag.

We almost lost the knowledge of the great animators from the Golden Age because of this swing to flater, restricted animation cartoons of the 60s through the 80s. I think people can be experimental, yet use knowledge from the past to aide them. It's like how a painter should know his or her art history.

That's how I feel about it.

Robert said...

I wonder if that "no geniuses" stuff wasn't really just meant for external consumption. The general public had very backward ideas about smart people at the time (still do, that's how we got a President with backward ideas about smart people). Acknowledged geniuses like Einstein and Chaplin were being harrassed as communists. I suspect Disney valued geniuses, he just didn't want the public to know he liked them.