DVD Review: Mr. Magoo: The Theatrical Collection 1949 – 1959

Mr. Magoo became a notorious cartoon character over the last few decades. Why? Because certain organizations decided that Mr. Magoo mocked the blind. The elderly Magoo got into trouble by stumbling across the screen and misidentifying everything. The problem is that Mr. Magoo isn’t blind. He’s nearsighted. He is a rich guy who refuses to wear glasses. What makes the cartoons funny without being cruel is that he wants to see the world through his perception and not reality. There’s nothing wrong with laughing at his antics. What makes him really funny is a voice created by Jim Backus, best known as Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island. Mr. Magoo: The Theatrical Collection 1949 – 1959 contains all 53 of his shorts that played at the movies and his feature films.

“Ragtime Bear” introduces Mr. Magoo as a not so loveable character. He’s not even the star of the short. That honor belongs to a bear who encounters Magoo and his nephew Waldo. Magoo mistakes the bear for Waldo when the creature gets his paws on Waldo’s hat and banjo. Magoo is a rather bitter small guy with his aristocratic attitude. He’s got anger in his voice as he screams at Waldo and the bear. What drives the action is the bear desire to get back the banjo from Magoo’s clutches. Magoo isn’t so sweet when blasting random things with his shotgun. But even though the bear seemed to get the big laughs, it is Mr. Magoo who returns for “Spellbound Hound.” Once again Magoo is having issues with an animal. This time it’s a bloodhound hunting an escaped convict who stumbles across Magoo’s lakefront estate. Magoo is a little less angry and violent this time around. He proves little help to the dog since he can’t notice the felon in the house.

“When Magoo Flew” was his first Oscar winner. Magoo wants to go to a movie theater, but wanders into an airport for a real 3-D experience. While his antics might have been cute in 1955, today Magoo would be tasered senseless by air marshals. Nobody’s allowed to open the emergency exit and walk on the jet’s wings during flight. The short illustrates UPA’s modern design and limited animation techniques. “Magoo’s Puddle Jumper” was his second short to win the Oscar. Magoo gets a classic electric car and gets behind the wheel. He takes a short cut under the sea. Waldo does his best to not freak out. Magoo doesn’t think there’s anything wrong. He does joke about seeing the rundown Backus mansion.

While Mr. Magoo didn’t start until towards the end of the theatrical shorts, he represented the future of television animation. The limited animation techniques such as just moving the lips and leaving the body static would become common place on the small screen. Many of the names in Magoo credits would go on to major careers. Writer Bill Scott would go work on Rocky and Bullwinkle along with other UPA cohorts. Even Magoo would have a healthy life in TV. Although he did have one last major time on the big screen with 1001 Arabian Nights (1959 – 74 minutes). Magoo is a nearsighted Baghdad lamp dealer who wants his nephew Aladdin (Many Love of Dobie Gillis‘ Dwayne Hickman) to settle down. Aladdin has his heart set on the princess. Aladdin gets involved with the powerful lamp that contains the genie. Can he make that power win over the princess? Or will it allow the evil Wizar (Hans Conried) to be the most powerful man in the world? It’s a fun adaptation.

Mr. Magoo: The Theatrical Collection 1949 – 1959 is a cartoon fanatic’s dream boxset. Everything that made Mr. Magoo iconic in the cinema is here. For those only familiar with his TV shows, the animation of the theatrical shorts is so astounding. The artists pushed the images and the motions. They were able to be radical with a character who seemed so conservative and traditional. Jim Backus’ voice adds so much to the little guy. His constant asides keep your eyes alert. Magoo has so much to offer an audience that wants to watch with wide eyes.

The video varies from 1.33 full frame to 1.85 & 2.35 anamorphic. UPA enjoyed playing with the various aspect ratios. The transfers themselves are dazzling. The details of the UPA artists come out on the screen. This boxset was delayed a few time in the name of restoring the shorts. The wait was worth it. The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. Jim Backus’ voice is golden through the speakers.

Audio Commentaries are provided on several of the shorts including Ragtime Bear” with John Canemaker, “Spellbound Hound” has Emily Hubley (daughter of director John Hubley” and Bungled Bungalow” features Jerry Beck. UPA animator Bob Longo walks us through “When Magoo Flew.”

Interview with Leonard Maltin (11:30) gives his own history of UPA and Mr. Magoo. Turns out that many of the UPA guys were part of the notorious strikers at Disney. They were rebels who wanted to take animation in a modern direction. Maltin really enjoys the techniques used at UPA.

Mr. Magoo Documentary(23:50) explores the history of UPA and how Mr. Magoo came to dominate their later years output. There are plenty of major animation historians and a few former UPA animators discussing the series. They point out how UPA was the anti-Disney. Their work on Magoo was revolution for abandoning realism.

A Princess for Magoo (5:59) has Jim Backus take us through the process of UPA deciding whose character design will be accepted for the feature film. This is great viewing since they take us to the UPA studio.

Photo Gallery (4:22) has various production photos and promotional stills from Magoo’s career.

Mr. Magoo: The Theatrical Collection 1949 – 1959 is an animation event. The transfers bring out the glory of Magoo. The bonus features give a great historical sense of what UPA contributed to the animation world. For those curious about the other UPA titles, Turner Classic Movies website sells UPA: The Jolly Frolics Collection which has 37 non-Magoo titles. The cinematic Mr. Magoo finally gets his due with this set.

Shout! Factory presents Mr. Magoo: The Theatrical Collection 1949 – 1959. Starring: Jim Backus, Dwayne Hickman and Daws Butler. Boxset Contents: 53 shorts and 1 feature film on 4 DVDs. Released: April 22, 2014.

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