A Year in Shorts Day 321: "Trouble Indemnity"
Well folks, it’s happening again. Yes, it’s time to bid adieu to another series we’ve looked at in our Year in Shorts. For today we take a look at the last Mr. Magoo short to get an Oscar nomination. Well, last for us anyway. Today’s short, Trouble Indemnity, was actually the first Magoo short to get an Oscar nomination. The last Magoo short to do so was Magoo’s Puddle Jumper, which was actually the FIRST Magoo short we covered, and… well, that’s neither here nor there. The point is we’re through with Magoo, but at least we’re going out on a high note, with 1950’s Trouble Indemnity.
Directed by Pete Burness- who would go on to direct most of the series, including all the Magoo shorts we've covered- and John Hubley- who would go on to be an extremely important figure in independent animation- Trouble Indemnity is NOT, despite what the title may suggest, a parody of Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity. Which is a shame, because I for one would pay good money to see Mr. Magoo recreate Barbara Stanwyck's iconic balcony look. It does, however, feature insurance as a key plot point, which probably doesn't inspire much confidence in you as a viewer. But never worry, for Trouble Indemnity contains all the usual Magoo goodness that you've come to expect. It all starts off when Magoo is conned into buying insurance from a shady company. After a minor injury, Magoo goes to make a claim, but accidentally stumbles into the construction site next door instead. Afraid of the massive, company-ruining payout they'd owe should Magoo die (Waldo is presumably his beneficiary, and you know that greedy bastard is coming to collect), the salesman and his boss rush across the street to save him. And wouldn't you know it? Hijinks ensue!
While Trouble Indemnity is in many ways a typical Magoo short- with the old bastard's near-sightedness leading him to a great number of near misses- that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's really all about execution, and Trouble Indemnity pulls the whole thing off with aplomb. As we've seen before, construction sites are a setting rife with comic potential, and Burness and Hubley milk it for all its worth. It certainly helps that the short combines its setting specific gags with classic cartoon action, complete with that old standby- a character hovering in midair for a few seconds before falling. Perhaps that kind of humor was a little outdated by the 1950s (and it's certainly old hat nowadays), but classics become classics for a reason, and I love that sort of stuff. I also think it helps that the people bemused by Magoo's antics are more than deserving; rather than innocent bystanders, the insurance salesman and his boss have every bit of their comeuppance coming. (Not to mention the fact that Tirefighter, the salesman, looks a tiny bit like Hitler. Take that, guy who resembles Hitler!) The Magoo shorts have to strike a delicate balance with the slapstick- obviously Magoo can't suffer any injuries himself, because then he'd notice something was up. But as Magoo shorts aren't really action-based, there aren't often opponents who can get hurt either. Now obviously a cartoon doesn't need for people to be hurt in order for it to be funny. I mean, it doesn't hurt, but still. The gags in Magoo cartoons typically rely more on the clever setups and silly visual gags, and that's certainly enough. But let's be honest- watching bad guys get hurt is funny, and that element is just a cherry on top of this sundae.
But at the end of the day, Trouble Indemnity is a Magoo short, and you should know by now whether or not that's your thing. And I have to admit, I've developed a real soft spot for this series. I like the UPA style, from their off-kilter background and exaggerated character designs. I like Jim Backus's voice acting, perfectly accentuating all the physical comedy with his grumpy musings. And damn it, I just like seeing what scrapes he finds himself getting into. It might not be great, ground-breaking cinema, but not everything has to be. Sometimes you just want to watch cartoon characters get into some wacky situations, you know? But if you absolutely must have something a little more artistically ambitious with your cartoons, UPA still has you covered. See, Trouble Indemnity didn't win the Oscar that year, losing instead to Gerald McBoing-Boing. The UPA style would come to define a lot of animated shorts for the decade to come, and this double dose helps explain why that is.
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