Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Amid Amidi's recent book Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in Fifties Animation is a fascinating look at how a new angular stripped down design inspired by both modern art and jazz developed out of a rejection of the pillowy, round Disney uber-cutesy style of animation. The book is wide ranging and shows how by the end of the decade even Disney had adopted aspects of the new style. Many of the artists who went in this direction were former Disney artists themselves who were part of the 1941 strike which cut many more independent (and left leaning) animators loose. A key studio in the development of the new style was UPA, which was co-founded by John Hubley. Among the characters Hubley helped create for the studio were Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing Boing, written by Dr. Seuss. One of his best known cartoons was called Rooty Toot Toot, a retelling of the Frankie and Johnny story. Here's one of Hubley's sketches for the film, from Amidi's Cartoon Modern Blog (a site chock full of graphics and YouTube links).

Hubley's political views were a liabilty in the post war red scare era, and he was let go by UPA, which never regained the creativity of his years there. He later formed his own company called Storyboard which mainly did TV ads. He and his wife and partner Faith made a promise to themselves to continue to do their own creative films though, and one of those was A Date with Dizzy, a short featuring trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie that mocks the kind of clueless advertisers that the Hubleys worked for. There's more about the film here at another great site called jazz:animated. Dig the hipster popcorn ad.

Another jazz related film was The Tender Game, an animated illustration of an Ella Fitzgerald tune done with Oscar Peterson (unfortunately the linked video cuts off before the end). The Hubleys' own films had become increasingly painterly and abstracted.

The next year they created a film called Moonbird structured around their sons Mark and Ray's childhood fantasies, using the kids own voices. It won the Oscar for best animated film in 1959.

Later the Hubleys did more award winning films in the 60s, did much work for Sesame Street in the 70s, and they collaborated until John's death in 1977 (his last project was a Doonesbury TV special). His legacy lived on. His wife Faith continued to do films, and their daughter Emily later did the animation for the film version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Their other daughter Georgia is the drummer for a little band you might have heard of called Yo La Tengo.