The cartoon character Mr. Magoo is an old man who gets himself involved in very funny misadventures due to his poor eyesight, his poor hearing, and his stubbornness. The jokes come fast and furious as he barely comprehends what he’s looking at, which is why he unknowingly finds himself bowling in a bottling company, enjoying a beachside amusement park on a construction site, and attending a television show taping at a police station.
The situations get dangerous at times, especially for those trying to rescue Magoo, but in spite of — or possibly due to — his obliviousness, everything works out in the end.
Mr. Magoo made his first appearance in “Ragtime Bear” (1949), a theatrical cartoon from United Productions of America, a studio formed by former Disney animators. He continued appearing in theatrical shorts, two of which won Oscars, and feature-length cartoons. He also appeared on an album, in his own comic book, a number of television series, and was given the live-action treatment in a 1997 film starring Leslie Nielsen.
No offense to the writers and animators, but what made Mr. Magoo such an engaging character and cultural icon is the brilliant voice work of Jim Backus, known to many TV watchers as Thurston Howell III from Gilligan’s Island. Backus provided Magoo’s voice for over 30 years, and his performances are hysterical, especially Magoo’s rapid alternations between sweet and cantankerous when he gets frustrated.
The Mr. Magoo Show collects 130 cartoons from his first series, which ran from 1960-62. There are 26 shows, each containing five cartoons; however not all focus on them or Magoo. A few cartoons feature the exploits of Magoo’s nephew Waldo with his friend Prezley, whose voice characterization is a very poor W.C. Fields. Others have Magoo’s pets on the loose in the house a la Tom & Jerry.
The non-Magoo cartoons are average and thankfully on DVD are easy to skip over. Although the animation is very basic throughout the series, fans will enjoy the meeting between Mr. Magoo and UPA’s other character, Gerald McBoing Boing, as well as hearing legends in the field of cartoon voice work, Mel Blanc and Daws Butler.
However, I pause before recommending this set because of Mr. Magoo’s Chinese houseboy, Charlie. He is drawn with beaver-size buckteeth and his broken English is pretty abysmal, always calling Mr. Magoo “Bloss” and referring to himself as “Cholly.” His character is startling and cringe-inducing. I am amazed there have not been any groups protesting this set.
For some odd unexplained reason on two of four discs Charlie’s voice has been dubbed by at least two different people who don’t use broken English. Unfortunately, their insertion into the soundtrack is jarring because the sound doesn’t match the original audio.
Regardless of historical accuracy, the cartoons with Charlie shouldn’t have been released. The only positive aspect is the Chinese shouldn’t feel singled out.
Indians and Mexicans don’t get flattering portrayals either.