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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol
Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol
Sony Wonder // Unrated // September 24, 2002
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Buzz Burgess | posted November 29, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie
The hilariously nearsighted cartoon start Mr. Magoo was created by the United Productions of America studio in 1949. Founded by former Disney animators Zack Schwartz, Dave Hilberman and Steve Bosustow in 1944, UPA was originally named Industrial Films and Poster Service. After producing several noteworthy animated films for organizations such as the United Auto Workers and the United States Navy, the company reorganized under the UPA name and signed a deal to produce theatrical shorts to be released by Columbia Pictures.

UPA's very first theatrical cartoon, "Robin Hoodlum," was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Short Subject in 1948. The studio's first original character, Mr. Magoo, debuted the following year in "Ragtime Bear," which also introduced Magoo's dimwitted nephew Waldo.

UPA went on to achieve widespread acclaim for its modern graphic art style, epitomized by 1952's "Gerald McBoing Boing," which was based on a character created by Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss). In 1956, UPA created "The Gerald McBoing Boing Show", the first animated series produced specifically for television. The studio made its last theatrical cartoon in 1959 and was sold to producer Henry Saperstein in 1960. Under Saperstein's direction, UPA focused exclusively on television animation in the years that followed.

Eager to break away from the kind of funny animal cartoons being produced by Disney and Warner Bros. among others, the staff at UPA determined that their first original character should be a human being. The crotchety, nearsighted Quincy Magoo was created for 1949's "Ragtime Bear," written by Millard Kaufmann and directed by John Hubley.

Jim Backus (Thurston Howell of Gilligans Island), an established comedic actor known for his radio work, was brought in to play the part of Magoo. Backus took to the character immediately and created a brilliantly distinctive voice for Magoo, which he would continue to perform for over 30 years.

UPA made a total of 52 Mr. Magoo cartoons between 1949 and 1959. Four were nominated for Academy Awards and two of those, "When Magoo Flew" (1954) and "Magoo's Puddle Jumper" (1956), won the Best Short Subject award.

The studio's first full-length animated feature film was 1959's "1001 Arabian Nights," starring Mr. Magoo in a retelling of the popular story of Aladdin and his magic lamp. The character returned to theaters after a long absence in 1997, when Walt Disney Pictures produced "Mr. Magoo," a live-action film starring actor Leslie Nielsen in the title role.

UPA created 130 5-minute Magoo cartoons between 1960 and 1962 which where syndicated under the title "Mr. Magoo." The shorts featured a number of Magoo's relatives, including nephews Wlado and Prezley, and Mother Magoo.

In 1962, UPA produced the first-ever mode-for-TV holiday special, "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." Sponsored by Timex, the hour-long special was directed by Abe Levitow and adapted from the Dickens story by Barbara Chain. Broadway veterans Jule Styne and Bob Merrill provided original songs for the production, and Jim Backus was joined by a cast of well-known voices, including Morey Amsterdam (The Dick Van Dyke Show) who did James Brady, Jack Cassidy (Bewitched) who did Bob Cratchet and June Foray (Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle) who did the Ghost of Christmas Past. The program became a seasonal favorite and was repeated frequently in the following years.

"The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo" prime time series premiered on September 19, 1964 as a response to the popularity of the Christmas special. The new series ran for 13 episodes and featured Magoo in a succession of familiar historical and literary roles. These episodes were later syndicated under the title "Mr. Magoo's Storybook".

Hoping to revive interest in the character in 1970, UPA created an hour-long special called "Uncle Sam Magoo," which ran on the NBC network and was sponsored by Maxwell House coffee. The well received special featured music by noted composer Walter Scharf.

UPA licensed the DePatie-Frelend animation studio to produce a Saturday morning Magoo series entitled "What's New, Mr. Magoo" in 1977. Airing on CBS, the series featured two new short cartoons per half-hour episode starring Magoo, his equally nearsighted dog McBarker, and a Magoo's nephew Waldo.

Forty years after his creation, a whole new generation of fans were introduced to the bumbling antics of Mr. Magoo when the charter made the jump to cable television. An assortment of old cartoons was repackaged in 1989 as "Mr. Magoo & Friends" for the USA Network's "Cartoon Express" programming block.

DVD
Region 1. Original aspect of 1.33:1, non-anamorphic, 52 minutes, single-side, single layer.

Video
Exceptionally clean for being over 30 years old. Solid source print and transfer with vivid colors, sharp focus and no apparent artifacts.

Audio
Mono, clear and clean and works fine with the presentation.

Menus
Non-animated, interactive, instant access (play, scene index, bonus features). Scene selection with 6 chapter with thumbnails.

Extras
Textual history of mr. magoo in film and television.

Biographies of the voice talents of Jim Backus.

Career retrospective of composer Jule Styne and lyricist Bob Merrill.

The Original movie poster.

A classic short, "Mr. Magoo Meets Gerald McBoing Boing".

Final Thoughts
A reproduction of a Dickens classic and first-ever animated Christmas presentation for television of any kind makes it a classic in itself. Add to that the wonderful work of Jim Backus portraying the lovable nearsighted Magoo and the remarkable compositions of Jule Styne, who produced more than 1,600 songs in his career and you have something to make the holiday season even merrier, to be served right along with the Wolfberry cake and Razzleberry dressing.

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