250.The Magic Fluke – John Hubley

song-of-the-prairie

SUMMARY: When the Fox and Crow’s musical double act is broken up by Fox’s lofty aspirations to conduct a symphony orchestra, his old partner accidentally sabotages the act by switching his baton with a magician’s wand.

WHY IT’S HERE: The second UPA short and their second contract-fulfilling Fox and Crow film, ‘The Magic Fluke’ gained the fledgling studio its second Oscar nomination. It’s not hard to see why. Although the UPA directors did not want to be making a series of cartoons with recurring characters, their begrudging agreement to make a handful of Fox and Crow shorts resulted in some extremely inventive material that transcended the usual ‘funny animal’ setup.

What sets the Fox and Crow shorts apart most is the inconsistency of the characters. Rather than develop characters with recognisable characteristics, UPA cast the Fox and Crow in different roles and gave them different personalities with each film, meaning that they were more like visually recognisable live-action actors. This opened up the possibilities of what could be done with the duo, even as it undermined their star potential. ‘The Magic Fluke’ has a novel idea at its centre and emerges as a wildly entertaining piece but ultimately it also feels stylistically indecisive. The concept of a conductor’s baton switched with a magician’s wand is an excellent idea which results in some wonderful sequences but the central concept sits uneasily in the hip urban setting in which it is placed. A few years later Tex Avery stole the idea for his cartoon ‘Magical Maestro’ but he placed it in a more fitting context and had enough faith in the notion to let it carry the entire cartoon. That film was a masterpiece. ‘The Magic Fluke’ was, by comparison, a great little curio.

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