It was an odd, confusing time for Hollywood studio theatrical cartoon shorts in the 1960s. The world had completely changed and though the traditional animated short (popular with movie goers since the 1910s) were still welcomed – production costs had gone up, film rentals had gone down and competition from television had eroded the overall quality of the finished work.
Independent and foreign animated films were challenging and progressive in ways the now old-fashioned Hollywood cartoons couldn’t be. Most studios began dismantling their cartoon studios – at the same time continuing to release the last of their films. As a child of the 1960s, I still recall seeing Pink Panther and other DePatie Freleng cartoons at my local theatre. Those seemed so sophisticated compared to the cornball Walter Lantz Beary Family, Chilly Willy and Woody Woodpecker shorts.
Warner Bros. actually closed their cartoon studio in 1962, but continued to release its last shorts into 1964 – and kept Bugs Bunny alive in the 1960s through reissues of his classic films. By 1964, the studio began outsourcing production of new Daffy Duck, Speedy Gonzales and Road Runner cartoons from DePatie Freleng at half the cost.
In 1967, Warners decided to reopen their in-house cartoon department under producer Bill Hendricks, apparently with the mandate to create new characters. This trade ad explains the new thinking:
Merlin the Magic Mouse had all the earmarks of a rejected Hanna Barbera TV cartoon. Originally voiced by Daws Butler (then replaced by Larry Storch), this W.C. Fields rodent prestidigitator was a sad come down for the studio who once produced the greatest cartoons ever made. At least I could understand the rationale for Cool Cat. He’s a beatnik tiger (though by ’67 hippies had replaced beatniks as the non-comformist youth culture) created to rival the uber-cool Pink Panther.
These studio release charts below – issued at various times and updated throughout the year – will give you an idea of Warner shorts activity during the last days of such distribution.
Notice the discrepancies in release dates on these charts. Accurate release dates are always hard to determine – and should really be considered a “rough idea” of when a film was released.
This was the last Warner Bros. cartoon theatrical from 1969. Since it poked fun at native Americans, it hasn’t been released on DVD or shown on TV. Believe me, it’s Cool Cat at his best.