A Year in Shorts Day 133: "The Magic Fluke"
If there are two names that should be familiar to regular readers of The Great Oscar Baiter, it’s UPA and John Hubley. Hell, the last time we talked about a John Hubley short, it was one he made for UPA. As we’ve seen in our Year in Shorts, both UPA and John Hubley’s work can be defined by their unique styles and bizarre sense of humor. But they weren’t always that way. It took a while for UPA to find its identity, and for Hubley to find his own voice as an artist. For some time the studio was more or less following the trends set by other animation studios at the time. Today’s short, The Magic Fluke, perfectly demonstrates that.
The Magic Fluke is an entry in the "Fox and Crow" series of shorts, which seem to have more or less fallen into obscurity. By 1949, fledgling studio UPA had signed a deal with Columbia Pictures to produce a few Fox and Crow cartoons for them, earning themselves an Oscar nomination for Robin Hoodlum the year before. The Magic Fluke is the penultimate short featuring the characters of Fox and Crow, and I have to say- it's pretty damn good! And more than that, it serves as an interesting look at the history of a studio, an artist, and a crossroads in eras of animation.
The premise for The Magic Fluke is a simple one, but Hubley wrings a lot of comic mileage out of it. The results might be a poor man's Looney Tunes short, but there are certainly worse things to be. But what I find really interesting about this film is the shades of UPA and Hubley's other works you can see sprinkled throughout. This might be a "work for hire" kind of film, but with a lot of the background animation are early examples of the limited animation and unique style seen in films like Gerald McBoing-Boing or Magoo's Puddle Jumper, and would define the look of a lot of cartoons in the 1950s. And yet somehow it doesn't clash with the more "classical" animation on Fox and Crow; somehow the juxtaposition works, and it turns what is otherwise a basic but amusing short into something far more interesting.
The Magic Fluke might not be as visually rich as the later UPA shorts, nor as artistically daring as John Hubley's independent work. But viewed on its own it's a perfectly entertaining film. And viewed as a larger part of a whole, it's a fascinating glimpse into the dual development of an influential studio and a visionary director. If that's not worth six minutes of your time, what is? And it's certainly more worthy of an Oscar than the film that won that year!!!
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