In the 1950s, UPA was the animation studio against which others were measured.  United Productions of America (known as UPA) brought graphic innovation and sophisticated storytelling to the animated film.  Influenced by modern painters and contemporary illustrators, UPA offered a new way of thinking about what a cartoon could—and should—be.

        The studio's origins can be traced to the 1941 Disney Studio strike.  Among the artists who left Disney's were Stephen Bos
ustow, David Hilberman, and Zachary Schwartz; they formed the earliest incarnation of UPA in 1943.  Their first projects were for government and industry, such as Hell-Bent for Election (produced for the United Auto Workers) and A Few Quick Facts about Fear (produced for the Army Signal Corps).

        In 1946, Hilberman and Schwartz left UPA.  Bosustow soon made a deal to produce theatrical shorts for Columbia Pictures.  From the start, two prohibitions emerged that defined the UPA cartoon: no talking animals and no cartoon violence.  UPA's first "human" cartoon star, Mr. Magoo, was developed by John Hubley and Millard Kaufman.  Many subsequent Magoo films were directed by Pete Burness.

        But UPA was most remarkable for its layouts and backgrounds.  Flattened character designs and striking colors combined in the unmistakable UPA style.  Robert Cannon's Gerald McBoing Boing, from a story by Dr. Seuss, won UPA an Academy Award and was followed by such diverse animated films as Rooty Toot Toot, The Unicorn in the Garden, and The Tell-Tale Heart.

        Soon UPA was a sensation, embraced by audiences and critics.  The company's output included commercials, industrials, and a television series (The Boing-Boing Show).  UPA expanded—opening studios in New York and London—but the company suffered a series of financial reversals.  In 1959, Columbia released UPA's first animated feature, 1001 Arabian Nights.  The film was not a success, and UPA's happy reign ended with a whimper.

        Bosustow sold the company to businessman Henry G. Saperstein in 1960.  During the next decade, Saperstein produced three television series and two one-hour specials.  DePatie-Freleng offered a final Magoo TV series in 1977.  Twenty years later, Magoo made his live-action début in a Walt Disney feature film starring Leslie Nielsen.  Classic Media, a New York-based company, bought UPA's television library and characters in 2000.

UPA: A Brief Overview