Leon Schlesinger’s Merrie Melodies cartoon The Mighty Hunters (1940) is one of a brief experiment by the producer to adapt other artists work to animation (Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hatches The Egg (1942) is another).
Schlesinger was known to resist the idea of making a feature film to compete with Disney’s success – and perhaps, in the period before Bugs Bunny was to emerge as a cartoon super star, he thought he’d instead augment his cartoon slate with known quantities like Dr. Suess or Jimmy Swinnerton’s characters – choosing two cartoonist/writers with established appeal to the wide range of movie goers (from 6-to-60, as they’d say).
James Swinnerton was best known for creating the long-running “Little Jimmy” comic strip for Hearst newspapers, beginning in 1904. The character was adapted to animation in 1936 in a Max Fleischer Betty Boop cartoon. In 1922, Swinnerton also began drawing another popular feature for Hearst’s Good Housekeeping magazine – this was “Canyon Kiddies” and it ran till 1941.
In 1939, Schlesinger signed up Swinnerton’s “Canyon Kiddies” for a proposed series of animated cartoons. Chuck Jones was selected to direct. This was Jones in his all-out Disney period where character and story took precedent over gags and exaggerated animation. Jones and his crew even took a trip to Arizona to shoot reference footage at an Indian reservation. Swinnerton was engaged to paint the backgrounds – in oils, as opposed to the usual watercolor paints. Swinnerton also drew promotional artwork as well (see above).
The resultant cartoon, The Mighty Hunters, came out in January 1940 and was given a little more publicity than the average Merrie Melodie. The New York Journal American printed this large broadsheet in full color (below, click to enlarge) – a huge promotion for a Warner Bros. cartoon at the time.
The cartoon itself didn’t endear itself to movie goers and plans for a series were dropped. It’s gentle humor was not in tune with the times. A few months later Tex Avery’s A Wild Hare would be released and would cement the studios “zany” reputation.
The Mighty Hunters is not on DVD. Below is an embed from a Russian website – with a Russian narrator over dubbing the Shepperd Strudwick original track. However, as the film is mostly in pantomime – and the Russian narrator is amusing – its worth a watch this way.
(Thanks, Bruce Simon)