Saturday Morning Toons: Rooty Toot Toot
You’ll have to forgive me if I get a little UPA happy in the future; I picked up TCM’s new box set of UPA Jolly Frolics and have been really enjoying going through it. Most of these cartoons are new to me, because UPA cartoons rarely get the kind of play that Looney Tunes or Disney cartoons get, even though UPA was the site of some of the most exiting and unique animation styles in the 1950s, really pushing past the established styles of Warner and Disney and incorporating more modernist and avant-garde design aesthetics into their cartoons. Though UPA would become best known for its series of Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing Boing cartoons, they also did a lot of one-offs, not really establishing any major long-lasting characters outside of those two. Rooty Toot Toot is a one-off, based on the popular jazz song “Frankie and Johnnie” about a woman who shoots her lover after catching him with another woman. It was deservedly nominated for a Best Short Oscar in 1951 (losing to Tom & Jerry outing The Two Musketeers), and is probably one of my favorite examples of a song-based short. One thing I love about it is a fairly common trait in UPA cartoons, and that’s how minimalist it is and how willing the animators are to let color and basic design define the space – none of the clothes have solid edges, for example. Other UPA cartoons would go even further in this direction. It gives them a startlingly modern look, as though a Matisse painting were being created right before our eyes.