A Year in Shorts Day 4: Gerald McBoing-Boing
Although he was never nominated himself, Dr. Seuss has a fairly long and interesting history with the Academy Awards. It all started in 1943, when George Pal turned Seuss's book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street into one of his trademark, vaguely unsettling "Puppetoons." Pal was nominated for an Oscar, and would follow it up with another nomination the following year with The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.
In the years that followed, several Seuss productions would be recognized by the Academy, from the award-winning post-war documentary Design for Death, to delightful pile of absurdity that is The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. They even gave an Oscar to Ron Howard’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, proving that no Academy Award is less indicative of a movie’s actual quality than the award for Makeup.
Still, arguably his greatest success, both with the Academy and in the world of cinema in general, came with today's short, the 1950 film Gerald McBoing-Boing.
Directed by Robert Cannon and based on a children's record by Dr. Seuss, Gerald McBoing-Boing tells the story of a boy (named Gerald) who can only speak in sound effects. What follows is a cute, Rudolph type story told in pleasant Seussian rhymes. But the story isn't what makes Gerald McBoing-Boing, it's the visuals.
Despite its connection to one of the world's most beloved illustrators, Gerald McBoing-Boing doesn't try to match Seuss' art style. Instead, it adopts a pleasing minimalist aesthetic, filled with exaggerated characters and simplistic backgrounds. The colors are simple but evocative, and the creative use of perspective leads to some truly spectacular shots. The animation isn't terribly complex, but it's memorable, and its influence can be seen in cartoons such as Rocky and Bullwinkle or UPA's own Mister Magoo.
Gerald McBoing-Boing was a deliberate deviation from the style of Warner Brothers and Disney, whose art trended more towards realism, and it was a highly successful one at that. Also helping matters was the use of limited animation- instead of redrawing every frame from scratch, animators would reuse parts of frames to animate the scenes. This not only set it apart from their competitors, but it proved to be most cost effective.
While UPA might not be a household name like Warner Brothers and Disney, they still had a long and respectable career in the animation field, garnering another ten Oscar nominations, including one for another short featuring Gerald. Gerald McBoing-Boing was their first Oscar win, and in 1994 it would be voted as the ninth greatest cartoon of all time in a poll of one thousand animation professionals. The following year, the short would be officially preserved by the Library of Congress.
Not too shabby for a kid who doesn't speak words, but says boing boing instead.
Keep up with the Oscar baiting goodness by visiting our arbitrarily ranked list here on Letterboxd!
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