That WASN'T All, Folks!:
Warner Bros. Cartoons 1964-1969
Written by Jon Cooke
The year was 1964, and the Golden Age of theatrical cartoons was coming
to a close. Times were changing. Most theaters refused to pay extra
money for what was considered merely a filler, and the people who used
to come to the theaters were now turning more and more towards
television for their entertainment. The Warner Brothers' cartoon studio
was struggling, and after the release of "Senorella and the
Glass Huarache", a retelling of the Cinderella tale, the famed animation
studio closed its doors.
The release of "Senorella..." marked a rather sad milestone in cartoon
history: the last "classic era" Warner Brothers cartoon- the end of the
era that produced hundreds of classic cartoons and more lasting animated
personalities then any other studio. The cartoon characters had already
found new life in the world of television, but their career in
theatrical cartoons wasn't quite over yet.
Shortly after the studio's closing, Friz Freleng teamed with producer
David H. DePatie to form DePatie-Freleng Enterprises. They leased the
former Warner Brothers cartoon studio and began producing animated
openings for the series of Pink Panther feature films. The star of these
clever opening credits sequences was soon given his own highly
successful series of cartoons, the first of which won an Oscar. Along
with focusing on its own cartoon properties, DePatie-Freleng was
commissioned to make new Warner Brothers cartoons featuring the already
established Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies characters. Obviously,
someone at Warner Brothers realized there just might be some profit left
in new theatrical shorts.
The thirty-seven shorts which followed were definitely a mixed bag.
They have been widely dismissed by fans and critics as terrible.
Leonard Maltin has called the whole batch of shorts "abysmal", making
this era of Warner cartoons the most overlooked in the studio's history;
even the Harman-Ising cartoons of the 1930s have received more attention
in animation history books.
The cartoons produced during this period are in no way great. They are
amusingly funny at best, but none are as classic as the vintage cartoons
of Jones, Freleng, Clampett, Tashlin, McKimson, and the rest. Extremely
limited budgets, weak writing, limited animation, and awkward character
pairings were what hurt these cartoons the most. However, they still
deserve more attention than what has been given to them.
The first DePatie-Freleng effort was an enjoyable Speedy Gonzales solo
cartoon titled "Pancho's Hideaway". The animation was a little better
than later DePatie-Freleng productions, and this Speedy cartoon was
about as decent as any other Speedy cartoon produced earlier in the
old studio. Friz Freleng directed this short in which Speedy tackles
the bad guy, bandit Pancho Vanilla (a possible Mexican relative of
Freleng oversaw production of the first five Warner Brothers cartoons
produced by his studio. Each one of these five efforts had a Co-Director
credit given to Hawley Pratt. After these five cartoons, Freleng and
Pratt handed the directing duties over to Rudy Larriva and long-time
Warner Brothers cartoon director Robert McKimson. An exception was "Corn
On the Cop", a 1965 release directed by Irv Spector.
The familiar and famous openings and closings of the classic cartoons
were replaced by a more "modern" opening which featured updated graphics
and an annoying, new version of "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down". The
cartoons also no longer ended with the trademark "That's all, Folks!".
These openings had been used on a handful of entries done in a more
"modern" style during the classic years: "Now Hear This" (1963),
"Bartholomew Versus the Wheel" (1964), and "Senorella and the Glass
Speedy Gonzales became the major character during these years. They made
an odd choice on who would be the foil to Speedy in his new adventures.
Sylvester the Cat was the villain in most of Gonzales' older shorts, but
his attempts to catch the fastest mouse in all Mexico would only appear
in three DePatie-Freleng efforts. Sylvester was soon retired, and Daffy
Duck stepped into the putty tat's role as Speedy's foe.
Daffy first crossed paths with Gonzales in 1965's "It's Nice to Have
a Mouse Around the House", where we see Sylvester finally going crazy
from his many years of Speedy chasing. Granny calls upon the aid of
Daffy Duck of Jet Age Pest Control to rid her house of the rodent.
The duck, of course, fails.
Perhaps someone thought that the Sylvester/Speedy formula had become
worn out, or perhaps it was simply that Daffy Duck's name had more
commercial value than Sylvester's. Whatever the case, Daffy was now
Speedy's co-star. The trouble was that unlike Sylvester and Tweety or
Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, Daffy and Speedy didn't make a very good
The biggest problem was Daffy. In order to make him a suitable villain,
like Sylvester once was, Daffy became quite nasty and bitter. He lost
all the charm he once had during his heyday. Daffy's greed and cruelty
in a few of these shorts was taken to extremes, even for Daffy! In
"Assault and Peppered" (1965) he whips the poor Mexican mice for
"[starving] on [his] property", and in "Go Go Amigo" (1966), he takes
over a local radio station at gunpoint just so that Speedy and friends
can't listen to music at Daffy's electronics store!
Sylvester made one last appearance as a cartoon star in 1965's "The Wild
Chase". This cartoon is more interesting than entertaining, as it
features Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, Speedy Gonzales, and Sylvester-
all in the same cartoon! The gags are "borrowed" from previous Chuck
Jones Road Runner outings. The plot has the Road Runner, "The Texas Road
Burner", in a race with Speedy Gonzales, "The Fastest Mouse in Mexico".
Of course, it would have been nice to see who would have actually won
in a race between the bird and mouse (how many WB fans have pondered
the same question?). Unfortunately, the cartoon ends on a rather
predictable note: Wile E. and Sylvester in an out-of-control
rocket car are declared the winners of the race.
"The Wild Chase" was also the first of the appearances of Wile E. and
Road Runner in the DePatie-Freleng cartoons. Rudy Larriva directed a
series of new Road Runner cartoons. The critics have had a field
day trashing these cartoons as well. To quote Leonard Maltin in his
book, Of Mice and Magic, "These cartoons were witless in every sense
of the word."
Although not as fast and funny as the Chuck Jones-directed cartoons, the
DePatie-Freleng Road Runners still offered some amusing gags and
imaginative situations. Wile E. resorts to everything from a huge robot
("The Solid Tin Coyote"), a wind-sail ("Highway Runnery"), a hunting
bird and hot rod ("Out and Out Rout"), a snow-making machine ("Hairied
and Hurried"), a World War I biplane ("Just Plane Beep"), and a
chemistry set ("Clippety Clobbered") to even a spy kit ("Sugar and
Spies") to catch his prey! Robert McKimson directed the first and last
of these Road Runners, "Rushing Roulette" and "Sugar and Spies".
The most enjoyable cartoons of the DePatie-Freleng years were the
cartoons that didn't depend on the Coyote/Road Runner or Daffy/Speedy
formulas. There were three of this nature released in 1965. "Suppressed
Duck" has Daffy in a series of hunting gags as he tries to shoot a
wise-guy grizzly bear. "Corn On the Cop" features Daffy and Porky Pig
his last theatrical appearance) as cops trying to capture a criminal who
is disguised as a little old lady. Enter Granny, who thinks Daffy and
Porky are just Halloween trick-or-treaters. All this is soon followed by
a series of funny, mistaken identity gags. "Tease For Two" has
treasure-hunting Daffy encountering the Goofy Gophers, who live on the
spot that is supposedly the gold mine Daffy is seeking. The appearance
of the over-polite Gophers is the highlight of the picture, but after
this cartoon, Daffy would only be seen alongside Speedy Gonzales.
"Muchos Locos" (1966) is an interesting film, for the fact that instead
of just using unmodified footage from previous cartoons, the footage had
been reanimated and given new music and voices. Clips in this cartoon
were from "Robin Hood Daffy" (1958), "Deduce You Say" (1956), "China Jones" (1959), "Tortilla
Flaps" (1958), and "Mexicali Shmoes" (1959), as Speedy gives examples of a "stupid
duck" and a "smart mouse" to a young mouse friend.
Some other entries also provided some funny moments. "Chili Corn Corny"
(1965) brought back one of Freleng's Mexicali Crows characters as
Speedy's chum, the Loco Crow, while "A-Haunting We Will Go" brought
Witch Hazel back to the silver screen in 1966. This cartoon, which
reuses some animation from "Broom-Stick Bunny" (1956) and "Duck Amuck" (1953), has a
plot where Witch Hazel turns Speedy Gonzales into Witch Hazel! We also
learn that Daffy Duck has a nephew!
The last DePatie-Freleng cartoon for Warners was "Daffy's Diner" (1967),
which was yet another Daffy/Speedy entry. The cartoons produced by the
company had proven successful enough that Jack Warner decided to reopen
the old cartoon studio.
DePatie-Freleng Enterprises went on to produce numerous cartoons with
its star, the Pink Panther, along with other animated characters like
the Inspector, the Ant and the Aardvark, and the Texas Toads.
It also went into television production and turned out a number of
limited-animation series, which have become largely forgotten.
During this reorganization of the Warner Brothers' cartoon studio, three
cartoons were sent out to be produced by Herbert Kylnn at Format Films
(the company best known for bringing the original Chipmunks to TV on
the 1960s series, "The Alvin Show"). This trio of 1967 films were directed
by Rudy Larriva, and were surprisingly well done.
"Quacker Tracker" has quite a few funny gags as Daffy attempts once
again to catch Speedy Gonzales, this time for a lifetime membership
to the Tooth N' Nail Hunting Society. In the second of the three titles,
Daffy tries to get some rest on his vacation, but is constantly being
awakened by Speedy and band in "The Music Mice-Tro". Finally, a nifty,
little James Bond/secret agent spoof is the result of "The Spy Swatter",
as enemy agents Daffy Duck and a nasty orange alley cat, try to stop
Speedy from delivering a top-secret formula. This would be the last of
the cartoons directed by Larriva and the last to be produced at Format.
Warner Brothers had officially opened its cartoon unit once again, and
this time, the head director was Alex Lovy, with producer William
Hendricks. Lovy had been previously employed at Walter Lantz Productions
and directed a number of cartoons featuring characters like Woody
Woodpecker and Chilly Willy. The first cartoon to be released by the
newly reopened studio was "Speedy Ghost to Town" in 1967. It was decided
that the Daffy-and-Speedy formula would continue.
Soon, however, the focus of the Warner Brothers cartoon unit moved away
from the Daffy/Speedy shorts, in favor of attempting to come up with
new, original characters. It would appear that Jack Warner was hoping
that one of these characters would become a new Bugs Bunny.
The first new character to be introduced was a beatnik tiger named Cool
Cat, in a cartoon titled "Cool Cat". The vocal group, The Clingers,
introduce us to the tiger through his theme song, "He's Just a Cool
Cat". This first Cool Cat cartoon also introduced the English big game
hunter, Colonel Rimfire, who was seen pursuing our hero in a huge,
mechanical elephant. Both characters were voiced by Larry Storch of
television's "F-Troop" fame.
The next character to be introduced was a W.C. Fields-like rodent named
Merlin the Magic Mouse, who was also introduced to moviegoers with a
self-titled cartoon. The premise of this series of shorts would be the
various of misadventures Merlin and his young assistant, Second Banana,
would get themselves into due to Merlin's backfiring magic
tricks. Daws Butler provided the voices of the two characters in the
first cartoon, but the voice work was taken over by Larry Storch for the
remainder of the series.
Neither Cool Cat or Merlin really caught on, but both had brief
series which yielded some amusing cartoons. Cool Cat's hip-talking
personality makes his films seem a bit dated to today's audience, but
one could also argue that the ridiculous-sounding jive-talk makes the
Cat cartoons funnier to today's audiences. There are some good gags in
"Big Game Haunt" (1968), in which the Rimfire/Cool Cat chase leads them
into a haunted house, where they encounter a misunderstood ghost named
Spooky. "3 Ding Wing Ding" (1968) seems as though it could have been
inspired by "Tweety's Circus" (1955), which included a similar
fire-eating gag. Merlin's shorts didn't quite have as many amusing
moments; the early shorts pitted the Magic Mouse against a dopey Indian
named Lo in "Hocus Pocus Pow Wow" (1968) and a pair of feuding
hillbillies in "Feud with a Dude" (also 1968), but these shorts failed
to generate much interest in either Merlin or the villains. Robert
McKimson had more luck a year later with "Shamrock and Roll", in which
a rascally leprechaun named O'Reilly heckles Merlin and Second Banana.
Meanwhile, 1968 saw the oddest of the Daffy and Speedy cartoons,
"Skyscraper Caper". Unlike their previous encounters, the duck and mouse
were now best pals! The plot of the short is the old gem of a character
(Daffy, in this case) sleepwalking through a construction site while
another character (Speedy) watches in horror as his friend narrowly
escapes disaster again and again. The same plot had been used for years,
in the Donald Duck, Tom and Jerry, and Popeye cartoon series. It was
also nice to see a friendlier version of Daffy again.
1968 saw the release of a "Cartoon Special" (neither a Looney Tune of
Merrie Melodie) called "Norman Normal". Will Friedwald and Jerry Beck,
in their book, Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, describe this short as
"a contemporary satire on business methods and social behavior." This
short hasn't been seen in years.
Lovy continued to also produce "pilot" cartoons for possible new series
through 1968. "Flying Circus" was a spoof of the World
War I flying ace plots, featuring a brave pilot named Ace whose enemy
was a red baron named Fritz. "Chimp and Zee" introduced a duo of cute
characters: a spunky little monkey named Chimp and a jungle boy named
Zee. They had to use their wits to avoid a boisterous big game hunter
voiced by Mel Blanc (not to be confused with Colonel Rimfire). Neither
of these cartoons resulted in a follow-up; the same wasn't true for the
next "pilot" cartoon, "Bunny and Claude (We Rob Carrot Patches)".
"Bunny and Claude" was a parody of Warner Brothers' then-popular movie,
"Bonnie and Clyde" (1967). This short also marked the return of director Robert
McKimson, who directed the rest of the Warner Brothers' shorts until the
closure of the studio. "Bunny and Claude" has some great moments,
mostly thanks to a Southern sheriff who tries to capture the duo of
carrot-stealing bunnies. The series also benefitted by a catchy theme
song sung by Billy Strange, titled, "The Ballad of Bunny and Claude".
The first release of 1969 was the second and last appearance of Bunny
and Claude, in "The Great Carrot Train Robbery".
Robert McKimson also introduced the new characters Rapid Rabbit and
Quick Brown Fox in "Rabbit Stew and Rabbits Too". It's easy to see what the inspiration was for these two characters: the
Road Runner and Coyote series.
Quick Brown Fox was very much like Wile E. Coyote, setting up a series
of backfiring gadgets, while Rapid Rabbit never spoke but produced
noises with his bicycle horn. It has been said that a series of Rapid
Rabbit cartoons were planned, but this was the only one produced.
Similarly, a series of "Keystone Kops" cartoons were written but never
saw the light of day.
McKimson directed Cool Cat in his two last appearances, "Bugged By a
Bee" and "Injun Trouble". "Bugged By a Bee" turned out to be Cool Cat's
finest performance; it was even chosen to be in a syndication package
of old Warner cartoons in 1990 in "Merrie Melodies: Starring Bugs Bunny
and Friends". "Injun Trouble", the last Warner Brothers cartoon, has been
rarely seen in recent years due to its politically incorrect content.
It was becoming obvious that the reorganized studio was not producing
the kind of profits that were hoped. The Warner Brothers' theatrical
cartoon studio was soon officially closed down, not to be opened again
until the late 1980s, when a new generation of cartoonists tried their
hand at producing new cartoons in the classic spirit. The age of
theatrical cartoons from Warner Brothers was now over.
However, Cool Cat and Merlin were featured on Looney Tunes merchandise
throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including drinking glasses,
figures, PEZ candy dispensers, puzzles, jelly jars, comics, coloring
books, and even given shapes in Nabisco's Bugs Bunny animal crackers!
The merchandising of these two characters has come to a halt in recent years,
as Warner Brothers would rather focus their official merchandise on the
more popular and well known characters (Tweety, Bugs, the Tasmanian Devil, etc.).
Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Tweety, and the rest of the classic Looney Tunes
characters became stars on television, and are just as popular today as
they were decades ago. Some cartoons produced after 1964 found their way
into the package of cartoons on CBS' "Road Runner Show" and "The Bugs
Bunny/Road Runner Hour", and on NBC's "Daffy Duck Show". The Merlin and
Cool Cat cartoons faded into obscurity, until they were leased in a
package of cartoons to Nickelodeon in the mid-1980s, where they have
remained until the network's rights to air Looney Tunes ended in 1999.
All Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies characters and images © Warner Bros.
Textual content © Jon Cooke, with all rights reserved
This article, the observations, and the ideas therein
are the intellectual property of the author unless otherwise noted and may
not be reproduced and then altered in any way without the express written
consent of the author, and any scholarly quoting, paraphrasing, or other
repetition of them MUST be accompanied by full stated credit to the author,
with failure to do so possibly exposing an individual or group to litigation
and possible civil or criminal penalty
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