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The Unlimited Limitations of Gerald McBoing Boing

The Unlimited Limitations of Gerald McBoing Boing

“Limited animation” is a technique that recycles frames in between shots, while also featuring drawings in stylized fashions. United Productions of America, or UPA, employed this method in their 1951 animated short, Gerald McBoing Boing: a story about a boy who can only speak through sound effects. The minimalist aesthetics showcased throughout are most prominent

“Limited animation” is a technique that recycles frames in between shots, while also featuring drawings in stylized fashions. United Productions of America, or UPA, employed this method in their 1951 animated short, Gerald McBoing Boing: a story about a boy who can only speak through sound effects. The minimalist aesthetics showcased throughout are most prominent in the narrative and stylistic choices, such as the story being propelled primarily by sound, information being provided by a narrator, a rhyme scheme, the soundtrack carrying the momentum of the story, and other elements that set it apart from fellow animation studio, Disney, which was developing features using “full animation” methods that, in addition to looking more realistic, were more concerned with not reusing drawings, and showing motion in complex ways. Through use of limited animation, Gerald McBoing Boing is distinguished with its abstract stylistic identity, which accentuates its progressive narrative about accepting those whom are marginalized; setting it apart from its Disney counterpart.

Gerald McBoing Boing differs from Disney, first and foremost, through its choices in narrative style. To start off, McBoing Boing features human characters, versus Disney’s popular choice of featuring anthropomorphized creatures. Secondly, the short includes a narrator who, in addition to rhyming the plot beats, also serves to disclose exposition which set the context of the story’s events. Also worth noting is how the story takes into consideration UPA’s thematic adherence to being “modern.” For example, the film’s ultimate resolution revolves around what made Gerald oppressed being redirected into something that not only makes him into a celebrity, but also empowers him. This makes the story forward-thinking in that it preaches the idea of embracing the “other.” Allowing for such a message to be at the center of a story tailored for children instills, from a very young age, that one should not deny the marginalized, but tolerate and accept individuals considered to be “different” by societal standards. In addition to sharing these same feelings for one’s own differences.

What further separate McBoing Boing, in comparison to Disney, are its stylistic choices. As Furniss notes, the film makes use of “large, sometimes patterned, colour fields being used to suggest a simplified background space” (140), which, in addition to being characteristic of the limited animation style, allows for more believability whenever the characters react as they do. In addition to having these backgrounds, they almost all have no form of ground, as well as one to two colors dominating the composition of every scene; which blends in with the outlines of the characters. As it had with the narrative structure, sound plays a stylistic role as well. Besides there being a narrator, rhyme completes each sentence, all of the dialogue is recorded over a musical background, the music is used as a means to carry the momentum of each scene, and whenever a group of two or more are shown, only one character is shown speaking. These are all elements that enunciate two things: this is a story hinging on noise, and it’s a limited animation feature. Besides sound, other elements worth considering are the designs of the characters. For instance, almost every character is drawn in a fashion that either exaggerates the features of a normal human being, i.e. the radio executive drawn as being incredibly tall to demonstrate power, or makes them out to be a shape reminiscent of the letter “F”, i.e. Gerald’s father, so that they can emphasize animated reactions for comedic effect. Furthermore, color also plays a pivotal role: it either heightens the mood of the story triumphantly, i.e. when Gerald becomes famous and accepted, the drawings are all in yellow, when he is sad, i.e. the bathroom scene with his father, everything is blue, and when he is scared and running away at night, the entire backdrop and objects in frame are almost all drawn in black.

When compared to Walt Disney’s work, it is apparent how much the two differ in design and execution. If one were to look into the studio’s first use of Technicolor, Flowers and Trees, they would notice a more diversified, as well as realistic, usage of color to capture the outward beauty of nature itself; contrasting with McBoing Boing’s minimalist use of color. When inspecting Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, each of the dwarves are designed through the application of “personality animation” to ensure that they aren’t just distinct in external design, but also distinguished via their bodily movements; whereas McBoing Boing’s characters are distinguished mostly on external design. Lastly, the animated musical, Fantasia, is embedded with characters that don’t merely relegate themselves to the x and y-axis of movement, like McBoing Boing, but also the z-axis, which allows for perspective lines to indicate depth, adding further realism; as if what is on the screen could leap out to the audience. While Disney’s films don’t serve to critique the qualities inherent in limited animation, they ultimately serve as an indicator as to how different the two are, as well as what makes the limited technique so unique in and of itself.

Gerald McBoing Boing’s application of limited animation in both narrative and stylistic design differentiate it from Disney’s work in a number of ways: namely in that their abstract and exaggerated designs emphasize a progressive narrative.  This idea is best echoed by a quote from Jules Engel where he claims, “[There’s] no such thing as limited animation, only limited talent” (Furniss 136). In other words, while the two styles are different, and certainly have their share of pros and cons, limited animation’s style allows for it to make enough of an exaggerated statement, via design, to be as applicable as Disney in making meaningful message about human experiences.

Work’s Cited

Furniss, Maureen. Art in Motion: Animation Aesthetics. Eastleigh, UK: John Libbey, 2007. Print.

Alex Villanueva
Alex Villanueva
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