Watch Gumbasia the Jazzy Stop Motion Film That Gave Birth to Gumby (1955)

Like many in the Hon­ey­comb Kids gen­er­a­tion, I did­n’t prop­er­ly appre­ci­ate chil­dren’s tele­vi­sion icon Gum­by until Eddie Mur­phy par­o­died him on Sat­ur­day Night Live. This sparked a revival. Watch­ing Gum­by episodes in the com­pa­ny of oth­er mer­ry young adults reframed my pre­vi­ous­ly held view of him as a rel­ic from a time when TV was bor­ing. Turns out that Gum­by and his equine side­kick Pokey were actu­al­ly pret­ty fun­ny, weird-in-a-good-way, and far more soul­ful than the wit­less flat ani­ma­tion jam­ming the air­waves of my 70s child­hood.

Then, in 2006, the Muse­um of the Mov­ing Image had an exhib­it devot­ed to the work of Art Clokey, father of Gum­by.

I decid­ed to take the kids, gam­bling that they might respond to Gum­by as I did now, not the way I did when I was their age. Their screen time was pret­ty lim­it­ed back then, and as a result, they’d avid­ly watch just about any­thing.

The first video we encoun­tered was Gum­ba­sia, the exper­i­men­tal, char­ac­ter-free, stop motion riff above that Clokey made as a stu­dent at USC. It was pro­duced in 1953 and released in 1955.

Not exact­ly what I’d been prim­ing the chil­dren to expect on the sub­way ride over.

“That’s Gum­by?” they cried in dis­may. “That cube?”

No. But those mor­ph­ing cubes and squig­gles did give birth to an empire, after pro­duc­er and pres­i­dent of the Motion Pic­ture Pro­duc­ers Asso­ci­a­tion, Sam Engel, offered to bankroll a pilot, declar­ing Gum­ba­sia the most excit­ing film he’d ever seen in his life. Clokey was teach­ing Eng­lish at the Har­vard Mil­i­tary Acad­e­my. Engel’s sole wish was to improve the qual­i­ty of chil­dren’s tele­vi­sion pro­gram­ming. He asked Clokey if he could “make lit­tle clay fig­ures out of that clay and ani­mate them.”

Clokey did just that, with Engel bankrolling the pilot, “Gum­by on the Moon.” The pro­duc­er was so pleased with the result, he refused to take a cut when Gum­by was giv­en a sev­en year con­tract at NBC.

Imag­ine a Cin­derel­la sto­ry like that hap­pen­ing today!

If this small morsel of Gum­by his­to­ry leaves you crav­ing more, book your flight for the inau­gur­al Gum­by Fest in Glen­do­ra, Cal­i­for­nia, where Gum­by grew to matu­ri­ty in “an unas­sum­ing indus­tri­al build­ing.”

You can find Gum­ba­sia in the Ani­ma­tion sec­tion of our col­lec­tion of 675 Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Big Bang Big Boom: Graf­fi­ti Stop-Motion Ani­ma­tion Cre­ative­ly Depicts the Evo­lu­tion of Life

Watch “Bot­tle,” an Award-Win­ning Stop Motion Ani­mat­ed Tale of Transocean­ic Cor­re­spon­dence

Hard­er Than It Looks: How to Make a Great Stop Motion Ani­ma­tion

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the author of sev­en books, and cre­ator of the award win­ning East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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