Watch the Oscar-Winning “Gerald McBoing-Boing” (1950): It’s Ranked as the 9th Greatest Cartoon of All Time

To under­stand how rev­o­lu­tion­ary this short film from 1950 was to con­tem­po­rary view­ers, just con­sid­er the pre­vi­ous four decades (or so) of ani­mat­ed films. There were talk­ing ani­mals, singing ani­mals, bounc­ing ani­mals, and in Dis­ney films humans based on roto­scop­ing live action. From its hum­ble and humor­ous begin­nings, ani­ma­tion was strid­ing towards real­ism as fast as it could. But in the first minute of this adap­ta­tion of a Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel sto­ry, you can see that’s all been tossed out the win­dow, a win­dow shaped like a trape­zoid.

This ani­ma­tion from the rene­gade stu­dio Unit­ed Pro­duc­tions of Amer­i­ca (UPA) ush­ered in the space age look that suit­ed the dynam­ic post-war Amer­i­can econ­o­my. The pace of life was fran­tic, sleek, mod­ern, and the ani­mat­ed char­ac­ters and back­grounds fol­low suit: laws of per­spec­tive are gone. Back­grounds are sug­gest­ed with one or two objects, and col­or is impres­sion­is­tic, not real­is­tic. The char­ac­ters are cute, but drawn with an econ­o­my of line.

Which would all suit a sto­ry by Dr. Seuss that already exist­ed as a children’s record, told in his famil­iar rhyth­mic rhyming style.

The Ger­ald of the title is a young boy who doesn’t speak in words, but in sound effects. His par­ents freak out, a doc­tor can’t help, and his class­mates and school reject him. But like many a Dr. Seuss sto­ry, Gerald’s prob­lem is actu­al­ly a gift, and the film con­cludes in a pos­i­tive way, cel­e­brat­ing dif­fer­ence. The film went on to win the Oscar for Best Ani­mat­ed Short that year, beat­ing out the estab­lished stu­dios of Warn­er Bros., MGM, and Dis­ney. It paved the way for the more min­i­mal ani­ma­tion of Han­na-Bar­bera (Gerald’s dad has a pro­to-George Jet­son look) and opened the door for more abstract films from the Nation­al Film Board of Cana­da, and influ­ence the Klasky Csupo stu­dio and oth­ers in the 1990s ani­ma­tion rebirth.

UPA was formed from the exo­dus of sev­er­al top Dis­ney ani­ma­tors after a cre­ators’ strike in 1941. Head among them was John Hub­ley, a lay­out artist who bris­tled against Disney’s real­ism and want­ed to branch out. At first known as Indus­tri­al Film and Poster Ser­vice, the stu­dio made films for the Unit­ed Auto Work­ers and for the Army, mak­ing edu­ca­tion­al films for young pri­vates with the Pri­vate Sna­fu series after Warn­er Bros stepped aside. Chuck Jones helped direct these shorts. Anti-Com­mu­nist sen­ti­ment put an end to gov­ern­ment work, and, so by the late 1940s, UPA decid­ed to take on the big stu­dios with the­atri­cal shorts and after “Ger­ald McBo­ing-Boing” was a hit, they con­tin­ued with the Mr. Magoo series, sev­er­al McBo­ing­Bo­ing sequels, and a TV ver­sion of Dick Tra­cy.

The stu­dio dried up in the 1960s and instead of ani­ma­tion teamed up with Toho Stu­dios in Japan and helped intro­duce a gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can audi­ences to kai­ju (giant mon­ster) films like Godzil­la by re-cut­ting and dis­trib­ut­ing many of their films.

Along with its Oscar, “Ger­ald McBo­ing-Boing” is now part of the Library of Con­gress’ Film Reg­istry as a sig­nif­i­cant Amer­i­can Film and often gets vot­ed as one of the great­est ani­mat­ed films of the 20th Cen­tu­ry. (It was vot­ed the 9th best ani­ma­tion of all time, by 1,000 ani­ma­tion pro­fes­sion­als.)

Last­ly, Gerald’s last name lives on as the inspi­ra­tion for the “hap­py mutants” zine and web­site,

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch 66 Oscar-Nom­i­nat­ed-and-Award-Win­ning Ani­mat­ed Shorts Online, Cour­tesy of the Nation­al Film Board of Cana­da

Chuck Jones’ 9 Rules For Draw­ing Road Run­ner Car­toons, or How to Cre­ate a Min­i­mal­ist Mas­ter­piece

Leg­endary Ani­ma­tor Chuck Jones Cre­ates an Oscar-Win­ning Ani­ma­tion About the Virtues of Uni­ver­sal Health Care (1949)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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  • Marjorie O. Cunningham says:

    Imag­ine what this car­toon did for the hun­dreds of chil­dren who thought they were “odd.” We all have our dif­fer­ences, but this film dis­played a qual­i­ty of life for those who don’t con­form to the “nor­mal” child depic­tion, and gave them hope that their unique tal­ents could be cel­e­brat­ed. Thank you for show­ing us this cel­e­brat­ed car­toon.

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