by Rachel Newstead
With Oscar season just behind us (though I imagine some acceptance speeches are STILL going on) now is the perfect time to look back on the animated shorts lucky enough to earn that gold statuette in years past–or better still, one cartoon in particular:
WHEN MAGOO FLEW
Academy Award™ Winner, Best Animated Short Subject, 1954
Director: Pete Burness
Release Date: Jan. 6, 1955
In Short: Magoo goes to the “movies”–and the experience seems strangely…uh, REALISTIC to our nearsighted friend. Of course, being on an airplane wing thousands of feet up will give you that sensation….
My entire life, I’ve had a sort of roller-coaster relationship with the character of Mr. Magoo. As with Fred Flintstone and company, Magoo was a part of my earliest memories; my introduction to the cranky old nearsighted gent came in the form of the numerous G.E. ads featuring him in the ’60s. Then, to my young and easy-to-please mind, he seemed like just a silly old man doing crazy things, and that was enough–for awhile.
But what might have been amusing when I was four or five proved to be painful to watch when I was thirteen or fourteen, and saw my first actual Magoo cartoons (as opposed to commercials, or specials) courtesy of Los Angeles television. The plots were simple: Magoo, because of his nearsightedness and total obliviousness, would mistake X for Y, and mildly crazy things happened.
Problem was, all the plots were “Magoo mistakes X for Y, etc. etc.”, and Magoo seemed more of a menace than a source of humor, creating wanton destruction wherever he went. Then, as now, I failed to find destructiveness funny (whether deliberate or not), and after about the 10th or 15th such cartoon, I’d squirm and look to see what else was on.
As far as I was concerned, that was it between me and Magoo. Until, that is, I happened upon a segment of the wonderful Wonderama…
If you were fortunate enough to receive WNEW in New York–or KTTV in Los Angeles–in the seventies or before, you probably remember Wonderama. For those who weren’t so fortunate, it was a three-hour Sunday kids’ extravaganza (calling it a “kids’ show” seems too limiting) with a little bit of everything–music, games, cartoons, and most importantly of all, interviews, all presided over during the ’70s by the genial Bob McAllister. I happened one Sunday morning to tune in Wonderama just in time for an interview with the inimitable Jim Backus–voice of you-know-who.
Backus spoke about his early work in show business, and of course, his years as the voice of Magoo. He put on the fake rubber nose he always claimed he needed in order to get just the right vocal quality, did a few brief lines, then McAllister cut to a clip of a Magoo cartoon: the very one I’ll be discussing today, the Academy Award-winning When Magoo Flew. Continue reading