Centennial Retrospective on John & Faith Hubley Makes Everything Better

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New York’s Film Forum is out to save our (culturally compromised) souls. They're screening a newly curated centennial retrospective of restored shorts by animator John Hubley. Screenings begin tonight, with a handful of gems from the master's career, with a second collection screening on May 27th. "Mr. Magoo & Friends," a Hubley tribute designed for children, shows Sunday May 25th as part of the theater’s Film Forum Jr. series. (More details below.)

John Hubley is most known for inventing Mr. Magoo and supervising the Seuss story Gerald Mcboing Boing. He briefly taught animation at Harvard and capped his storied career off with a healthy stint overseeing animation for PBS’ The Electric Company. He passed away in 1977.

If you ever feel blue or scooped out, if you’re ever at a loss for solutions or ideas, I’m about to introduce you to the patron saint of invention.

John Hubley started his career with Disney in 1936 but left in 1941 during the animator's strike. After a stint in the Air Force (where he produced Flat Hatting) he faced a moment of suffering at the hands of the House on Unamerican Activities Committee. Hubley was blacklisted but prevented it from killing his career by moving from Los Angeles to New York. Take a look at his richly loaded, grown up comedy Rooty Toot Toot. I imagine they used it against him in a (kangaroo) court of law (he refused to name names).

He took his half of production company UPA (United Productions of America) to NY and shortly after met his wife and lifelong animating partner, Faith. From then forward all Hubley films would be the product of two creators, not one. Their first collaboration was the exceptional game-of-form called http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IabK200F3SM " target="_blank">Adventures of an * (playing May 20). If you like Lionel Hampton or retro styling, Adventures of an * could blow your mind. The Hubleys transformed a grammatical symbol into a child, who grew to a man and a father and that grown up symbol lost his joi-de-vivre at the hands of a bummer job and holy heck aren't we all just grammatical symbols? Their metaphors are heady but too playful to feel burdensome.

Much of the Hubley's output was inspired by the musings of their children. All of their output chases invention. In 1968’s Windy Day, daughters Emily and Georgia (both animators, today) plan a play and as they choose their roles they become their characters as quickly as their imagination can invent them. These children are limitless, and Hubley’s film implicitly suggests that breadth of possibility isn’t limited to them; you have it, too. (Windy Day is part of the May 27 program.)

The Hubley’s favored improvisation and evidently had friends in the world of Jazz. So it’s a really marvelous experience to feel Ella Fitzgerald breezing through (my favorite) The Tender Game (playing May 27) or hear Dizzy Gillespie have fun in a dozen guises—even including a little wiggle with philosophy in The Hole. In 1964’s Of Men and Demons, a tiny civilization is thwarted by mischievous monsters, but the village fishermen persist, problem-solve and engineer, and they will always win because creativity is more powerful than destruction.

If the world is just this centennial retrospective, or some incarnation of it, will travel, inspire others to build their own Hubley retrospectives or renew enough interest to press new DVD collections. So few of us know the name "Hubley," and this retro could change that; we can never have too many reminders the world is full of possibilities.

MAY 20 – PART I
Program includes Rooty Toot Toot, a signature UPA cartoon; Fuddy Duddy Buddy, with Hubley co-creation Mr. Magoo; A Date with Dizzy, featuring a live-action Dizzy Gillespie; Academy Award-winning The Hole, with Dizzy’s improvised voice; The Tender Game, a park romance set to Ella Fitzgerald; and John and Faith’s first collaboration, Adventures of An *. Approx. 85 min.

MAY 27 – PART II
Includes Ragtime Bear, the very first Mr. Magoo cartoon; Oscar nominee Of Men and Demons, the Hubleys’ first collaboration with Quincy Jones; Urbanissimo, with the music of Benny Carter; and Windy Day and the Academy Award-winning Moonbird, both featuring the candid voices of the Hubleys’ kids. Approx. 85 min.

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