Animation studio UPA—United Productions of America—is best known these days as the studio that gave us Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing Boing (which inspired a certain website). But the studio, originally created by three former Disney employees, wanted to broaden horizons back in the 1950s, and created this quite disturbing adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart,” narrated by the venerable James Mason.
Due to its adult subject matter, it was the first animated film to receive an “X” rating
(or "suitable for those aged 16 and over") in the UK. Though not intended for children, many undoubtedly saw the film as kids and were profoundly affected by it. The film, designed by Paul Julian, borrows both from Dali-esque surrealism and German expressionism.
And while it does feature some traditional cell animation, there’s a mix of techniques that keep the film in the realm of the dreamlike and avant-garde: sudden zooms, shadows that fade in and out, flattened perspectives, inventive use of chiaroscuro. In this film one can see both the future careers of Roger Corman and Dario Argento, both grabbing influences left and right.
In fact, though designer Paul Julian is best known for his background work at Warner Bros. animation studios (he also is known as the creator of the Road Runner’s beep-beep sound), he wound up providing director Roger Corman with artwork for movies like Dementia 13 and The Terror.
UPA continued to produce films with its modern and flat space-age aesthetic during the ‘50s, but it never really hit these adult heights again. The ‘60s however, would pick up from where UPA left off.
Julian's “The Tell Tale Heart” was voted the 24th greatest cartoon of all time, in a 1994 survey of 1,ooo animation professionals. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. We hope you enjoy this glimpse into disturbia. It will be added to our list of Free Animations, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.