April 5, 2015 posted by Charles Brubaker

American Animated Westerns


I have recently listed four French Lucky Luke animated Western theatrical features. This does not include the Lucky Luke animated TV series (which will be here next week). This has made me curious as to how many Westerns there have been in animation? More than enough for one column, certainly, although none really memorable. Let’s list them.

To get one error out of the way immediately, this column does not include Terrytoons’ Deputy Dawg, often listed as a Western. The locale of his home town, Creekmud Junction, meandered from Florida to Mississippi to Tennessee, but it was definitely in the South, not the West. Deputy Dawg, Muskie Muskrat, Possible ‘Possum, Vince van Gopher, and the rest of the cast were Southeastern animals anthropomorphized as Southern rednecks, and not plains/desert wildlife anthropomorphized as Western cowboys.

I am also ignoring the French Yakari TV cartoon series – two of them, in 1983 and 2005 – although I love the bandes dessinées. Yakari is a little Sioux boy who can talk with the Great Plains wildlife such as otters, bears, and coyotes. He has magical adventures with other Sioux children, and with both real animals like a beaver family and fantasy animals like Nanabozo, a giant hare who is the personification of the Indians’ Trickster spirit. But white men are still unknown in the West at this period. Horses have just migrated up from the south (presumably from those that the Spanish brought to Mexico), to the wonderment of the Sioux. So Yakari is not a stereotypical Western with cowboys, ranches, and stagecoaches, and does not fit here.

pecos-bill225U. S. – Theatrical features

Pecos Bill, in Melody Time, May 27, 1948. Released alone as Pecos Bill, directed by Gerry “Clyde” Geronomi. 25 minutes. February 19, 1954.

Pecos Bill was originally the final segment in the Disney 7-segment Melody Time anthology, with animation credited to Ward Kimball. In a live-action prelude, Disney child stars Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten, with Roy Rogers around a campfire, ask why coyotes howl at the moon? Rogers answers, with songs provided by the Sons of the Pioneers. Bill was lost as a baby from a wagon train and was raised by coyotes. He grew up to become a super-Texan super-cowboy, with his horse Widowmaker. His exploits included painting the Painted Desert. He disdained girls, until he met the super-cowgirl Slue-Foot Sue, introduced riding a giant catfish. He fell in love with her, to the displeasure of Widowmaker. At their planned wedding, Widowmaker caused Sue’s bustle to start bouncing higher and higher, until she landed on the moon. Bill, heartbroken, returned to the coyotes, where they all howl at the moon.

Pecos Bill became notorious for Disney’s later censorship of Bill’s macho smoking, lighting his cigarette with a lightning bolt in a tornado. Disney removed all visual and audio reference to his cigarette on the U.S. DVD release, but left it in foreign DVDs.

The_man_from_button_willow_posterThe Man from Button Willow, directed by David Detiege. 81 minutes. April 3, 1965.

How Justin Eagle becomes the first U.S. Government Agent. Written by Detiege, supposedly as a vanity project financed by actor Dale Robertson, who provided Justin Eagle’s voice. With a live-action introduction featuring Robertson; an all-star cast, including Howard Keel singing four songs; Edgar Buchanan, Herschel Bernardi, Barbara Jean Wong, Cliff Edwards, Pinto Colvig, Thurl Ravenscroft, Verna Felton, Ross Martin, Shepard Menken, and Clarence Nash among the voice actors; music by George Bruns; veteran animators and cinematographers including Morris Gollub, Ken Hultgren, Sam Horta, Don Morgan, Ron Dias, Don Lusk, Amby Paliwoda, Ben Washam, and others.

A combination of cute fantasy animals and Western drama. In 1869, Justin Eagle is a rancher in the small town of Button Willow, California. The first third introduce Eagle’s friends including Stormy, a little Chinese girl; Sorry, an old frontiersman; and a variety of friendly domestic and wild animals (including horses, a dog and a skunk) who don’t talk but are otherwise very cutely anthropomorphized. The second third has the friendly animals rescuing a foal from a mountain lion. The final third has Eagle asked by the U.S. Government to act as a secret agent against landgrabber Montgomery Blaine, who is forcing settlers to sell land where the railroads spreading across the U.S. are going to go, so he can charge the government skyhigh prices for the land. Senator Freeman (voiced by Clarence Nash), who opposes Blaine, has been kidnapped by his henchman, The Whip. Eagle is sent into fogbound San Francisco to rescue Senator Freeman from being shanghaied.

The Man from Button Willow was notable for its directorial style that featured human and animal characters advancing or retreating directly toward/from the camera.

BraveStarr: The Movie, directed by Tom Tataranowicz. 91 minutes. March 18, 1988.

Based upon the popular TV animated series by Filmation Studios. Shown in Europe as BraveStarr: The Legend. A “Space Western”, set in the 23rd-century on the planet New Texas. The valuable mineral Kerium is discovered, and is stolen by the outlaw Tex Hex for his mysterious master Stampede, until Galactic Marshall BraveStarr and his talking, sometimes bipedal cyborg stallion Thirty/Thirty stop him. Supporting characters from the TV series appear. Produced by Filmation after the TV series ended. The movie was notable for its early use of computer graphics, but distributed only as a weekend limited release for children.

An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, directed by Phil Nibbelink and Simon Wells. 74 minutes. November 22, 1991.

The sequel to An American Tail (1986), in which the Russian-Jewish child mouse Fievel Mousekewitz and his family emigrate to New York in the 1880s to escape Cossack cat persecution. In this sequel, the Mousekewitzs are disappointed with life in the Bronx and, encouraged by villainous Cat R. Waul, move with their cat friend Tiger to the Wild West. Fievel overhears Waul and his hench-spider T. R. Chula talking about their plans to trick the mice into the paws of the Western cats, but Chula throws him from the train into the desert. Fievel has adventures with native American mice and is reunited with Tiger, but when he finds his family again settled in Green River, they do not believe that Waul plans to betray them. Fievel meets an ancient hound, Wylie Burp, who used to be a famous lawman, and persuades him to train Tiger as a lawman. Fievel, Wylie, and Tiger expose Waul, Chula, and Green River’s cats at the big opening of Waul’s saloon, and use Waul’s giant mousetrap to catapult all the cats out of town. At the end, the mice take over the saloon; Fievel’s older sister Tanya becomes a famous singer; and Wylie gives Fievel his sheriff’s star. Actor Jimmy Stewart, long in retirement, provided the voice of Wylie Burp just before he died.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, directed by Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook. 83 minutes. May 24, 2002.

A DreamWorks feature set in the 19th century West. Spirit is a mustang who is born into a wild herd and grows up to become its leading stallion. But he is captured by a U.S. Cavalry outpost commanded by “the Colonel”, a broad pastiche of Col. George A. Custer. The Cavalry has also captured a young Lakota warrior, Little Creek. Spirit and Little Creek become friends and escape together. Spirit meets Little Creek’s horse, the mustang mare Rain, and they fall in love. Spirit, Rain, Little Cloud, and the Colonel have further adventures centered around the building of the transcontinental railroad, and Spirit’s growing acceptance of humans but his continued refusal to let anyone ride him.

Home On the Range, directed by Will Finn & John Sanford. 76 minutes. April 2, 2004.

Three dairy cows – Maggie, Grace, and Mrs. Calloway – on elderly Pearl’s Patch of Heaven farm determine to capture notorious cattle rustler Alameda Slim, and use his bounty to pay off the farm’s debts to keep it from being sold.

A traditional Disney family fantasy-comedy. The stereotypical human Western cast is upstaged by the talking animals; notably the three cow heroines; Buck, the sheriff’s horse; and Lucky Jack, a peg-legged rabbit. Generally reviewed as a pleasant but mediocre Disney animated feature “classic”.

Rango, directed by Gore Verbinski. 107 minutes. March 4, 2011.

A pet chameleon (voiced by Johnny Depp) is lost from his owners’ terrarium in the Mojave Desert. He wanders into Dirt, a stereotypical Western town inhabited by anthropomorphic desert animals, terrorized by a red-tailed hawk and Bad Bill, a gila monster gunslinger. Bad Bill is chased off by the hawk, which is accidentally killed by the chameleon. The chameleon, hailed by the townsfolk as their savior, gives them the tough name Rango when he is appointed sheriff by the mayor. Problems are that Beans, the iguana love interest, is skeptical of his heroism, and the mayor appears to be involved in Dirt’s missing water.

U. S. – TV animation

The Quick Draw McGraw Show, directed by William Hanna and Joe Barbera. 45 half-hour episodes. September 29, 1959 to October 20, 1961.

The Quick Draw McGraw Show was the third TV cartoon animated series produced by the Hanna-Barbera studio, following The Ruff & Reddy Show and The Huckleberry Hound Show. It consisted of three segments of seven minutes each: The Quick Draw McGraw Western comedies; the Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy family comedies; and the Snooper and Blabber cat/mouse private detective comedies. Only the Quick Draw McGraw cartoons were Westerns. All were written by Michael Maltese, with all the male characters voiced by Daws Butler.

Quick Draw McGraw was a funny-animal horse sheriff always accompanied by Baba Looey, his Mexican burro deputy (voiced by Butler as an imitation of Desi Arnez, a bandleader/comedian with a thick Cuban accent; Arnez’s theme song was the popular Cuban “Babalu”). Baba Looey was the smarter of the pair, often pointing Quick Draw in the right direction or getting him out of trouble. Quick Draw was sometimes helped by his bloodhound Snuffles, who refused to track until bribed by a dog biscuit. Quick Draw occasionally disguised himself as El Kabong, a parody of El Zorro, who bashed villains with his “kabonger” (a guitar).

The Adventures of Lariat Sam, directed by Art Bartsch, Bob Kuwahara, Connie Rasinski, and Dave Tendlar. 13 five-episode five-minute serials. December 1, 1961 to September 10, 1962.

Produced by the Terrytoons studio for Captain Kangaroo. Jerry Beck devoted a whole column to it here on March 20, 2013, which is much more detailed than this brief profile could be. Jerry explains how Bob “Captain Kangaroo” Keesham insisted that it be a non-violent adventure for pre-schoolers, which resulted in a Western so gentle that it was boring.

The Lone Ranger, no overall director credit. 27 half-hour episodes. September 10, 1966 to January 13, 1968.

The Lone Ranger TV animated series, sponsored by the Jack Wrather Corporation which developed the popular radio adventures and live-action TV series, was produced by Herb Klynn of Format Films in Hollywood and designed & animated by the Halas & Batchelor Cartoon Film studios in London. It followed the famous Lone Ranger & Tonto adventures, but featured a darker and more impressionistic art style. The adventures, shown on CBS-TV, were similar to CBS’ live-action The Wild Wild West in combining Western and science-fictional plots with villains similar to comic-book costumed villains, especially in the Lone Ranger’s recurring adversary, the evil dwarf Tiny Tom, reminiscent of The Wild Wild West’s evil dwarf Dr. Miguelito Loveless. Episodes such as “The Cat People” and “Revenge of the Mole” suggested comic-book-style adversaries. Art Babbitt was a regular episode director. Voice credits were Michael Rye as the Lone Ranger, Shepard Menken as Tonto, and Dick Beals as Tiny Tom. The program ran on CBS with reruns to September 6, 1969.

Hoot Kloot, directed by Hawley Pratt. 17 theatrical shorts produced by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises. January 19, 1973 to May 16, 1974.

kloot-crazylegs250Hoot Kloot was the middle-aged, short human cowboy sheriff of the Western town of Cactus Gulch. He had a bad temper and rode Fester, a loyal but elderly horse wearing an old Union Army non-com’s kepi. (Bob Holt voiced both.) As usual in this stereotype, the sidekick was smarter than the main character. Fester usually kept Hoot Kloot out of trouble, for which the sheriff took all the credit. A frequent adversary was Crazywolf, a sheep-rustling wolf. A couple of plots revolved around Hoot Kloot trying to replace the limping Faster with something faster or more modern.

This is another title that has already had a whole column devoted to it on Cartoon Research, in this case by Charles Brubaker. See his Lost Planet Anime column of November 19, 2014.

The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, co-produced by Robert Mandell and Bob Chrestani. 65 episodes. September 14 to December 11, 1986.

The first “Space Western”, set after 2100 when friendly aliens looking for allies against the evil Crown Empire come to Earth and give humans a hyperdrive that enables them to colonize many planets, most of which look like Western settings. To protect the new planets against human villains and the Queen of the Crown Empire, a Bureau for Extra-Terrestrial Affairs (BETA) is established. Its chief Rangers, who have “Series 5” implants that give them super-powers, are Zachary Foxx, Shane Gooseman, Niko (female), Walter “Doc” Hartford, and Commander Joseph Walsh. They ride intelligent robot Cybersteed horses.

Although The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers was produced for American TV by Gaylord Entertainment Company, it was animated by Tokyo Movie Shinsha.

BraveStarr, executive produced by Lou Scheimer. 85 half-hour episodes. September 14, 1987 to February 24, 1988.

A “Space Western”. The basic plot and characters are the same as in the movie. Additional characters are the Prairie People, the prairie-dog-like original inhabitants of New Texas, including BraveStarr’s Deputy Fuzz; Judge J. B. McBride, the main female of the series and BraveStarr’s ally; Billy the Droid, a villain; Handlebar, a 14-ton, green-skinned bartender, and similar colorful characters. Many of the minor villains are anthropomorphized animals and comedy-relief robots, such as Goldtooth, a coyote; Sand Storm, a red reptile; Hawgtie, a pig; the Krang, felines; and Cactus Head and Thunder Stick, two robots.

Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, directed by Franklin Cofod. 52 half-hour episodes. September 14, 1987 to September 2, 1988.

An Americanization of the Japanese semi-humorous Bismarck, the Star Musketeer (Sei Jūshi Bisumaruku) Space Western, 51 episodes, October 7, 1984 to September 25, 1985. I wrote this up in my column of August 10, 2014. World Events Productions used 46 of the Japanese 51 episodes, and used footage from the other 5 episodes plus reused footage from throughout the series to create 6 new episodes, for a total of 52.

U.S. – Surrealistic shorts

Westerns have been a favorite subject of animation students for their class films. Here are a couple of them, with a twist: The Ballad of Poisonberry Pete by Adam Campbell, Elizabeth McMahill, and Uri Lotan (2012), and Solstice by Lynn Wang and Ed Skudder (2013). Solstice looks like a trailer for a movie that I’d like very much to see.

Next week: Foreign animated Westerns.


  • BraveStarr was popular?

    I’m not trying to be sarcastic, but everything I’ve read said it was a misfire that presaged Filmation’s end.

    • While I might not remember the show at all as a 10 year old, I did have the toys (I recall having the Thirty-Thirty action figure). I’m sure it was a combination of factors that did the studio in at the time, not to mention being bought out by a French cosmetic company that was only interested in their library, not keeping the studio afloat.

      Speaking of Bravestarr, there was the unaired, yet made pilot based around a character that showed up in one of these episodes in his own standalone series called “Bravo”. Filmation had also worked on a pilot based on a scene from it’s ’87 feature “Pinocchio and The Emperor of The Night” called “Bugzburg”. Neither of them went anywhere of course, yet I liked the animation in the Bravo pilot.

  • There was a 70’s Hanna Barbera cartoon with two Laverne & Shirley-esque women and a ghost who resembled Stinky Pete titled “The Galloping Ghost”. It’s rather forgettable.

    • A lot of it was. I would not have thought of this until you said so!

    • There were two other H-B cartoons set in the Wild West one was Posse Impossible about a group of wacky outlaws now working for the “good guys” as deputies and the made for TV movie The Good The Bad and the Huckleberry Hound. Also H-B also tried to bring Lucky Luke to American TV in the mid 1980’s ( even though only the 2-hour pilot was broadcasted here in the states ).

    • There were two other H-B cartoons set in the Wild West one was Posse Impossible about a group of wacky outlaws now working for the “good guys” as deputies and the made for TV movie The Good The Bad and the Huckleberry Hound. Also H-B also tried to bring Lucky Luke to American TV in the mid 1980′s ( even though only the 2-hour pilot was broadcasted here in the states ).

      Prepare to learn about Lucky Luke next week then!

  • “BraveStarr” didn’t seem any less popular than any of the other Space Westerns of the 1980s. Considering how cheesy almost everyone felt almost all the Filmation programs looked (“Star Trek: The Animated Series” was a rare exception), “BraveStarr” probably had as little to do with Filmation’s disappearance as any of its other programming. Lou Scheimer’s given reason, that Filmation was bought out (despite his opposition) and closed down by L’Oreal just to get its extensive film library for its home video value, is generally accepted as accurate.

    • “BraveStarr” didn’t seem any less popular than any of the other Space Westerns of the 1980s. Considering how cheesy almost everyone felt almost all the Filmation programs looked (“Star Trek: The Animated Series” was a rare exception),

      No arguments there!

      “BraveStarr” probably had as little to do with Filmation’s disappearance as any of its other programming. Lou Scheimer’s given reason, that Filmation was bought out (despite his opposition) and closed down by L’Oreal just to get its extensive film library for its home video value, is generally accepted as accurate.

      A sad time for all I’m sure.

    • My impression was there were screwups in rolling the show out. First the movie was supposed to be released, then the show would premiere just as the toys hit the shelves. The movie deal was bungled somehow and the show came out either too soon or too late to support Mattel’s toy line.

      Not a great show — the obligatory lessons and the non-violence rules weigh heavily — but there were intriguing traces of ambition here and there. The concept deserves a do-over.

  • I use to had a 16mm print of The Man From Button Willow for years, though I never watched it, namely due to not have enough time to set everything up, and having a print that was past the point of no return color-wise. Eventually I saw it courtesy of Showtime or FLIX one night in the early 2000’s and thought it would have been a cool feature had it not for the those animals. I felt they spent WAY TOO MUCH time on ’em than on the human side of the story I was following. I can see why they did that, and for the time this film came out that people expected an animated film to be that way.

    I can’t wait for your foreign offerings next week (especially if you bring up Bozzetto’s contribution).

    • David Detiege’s wife Phyllis (who co-produced) was Walt Disney’s sister-in-law, so there was quite a bit of Disney talent involved.

    • Didn’t surprise me. I guess I was hoping for someone a little more like a normal western if it wasn’t for the extended moments out on the ranch.

    • “Man from Button Willow” was the dangdest thing: painstakingly introducing a parade of human and animal characters who barely figure, abandoning its elaborate spy plot for a freestanding animal story, and wrapping up with a hasty voiceover.

      Very, very suspicious that this was a television pilot. Anybody got the story?

      Old enough to remember seeing it in a theater, after seeing it previewed in Jack and Jill Magazine.

    • From all that I’ve heard about “The Man from Button Willow”, the movie was purely a vanity project paid for by Dale Robertson, who voiced the hero, and meant as a theatrical feature. It was never intended as a television pilot.

    • “Man from Button Willow” was the dangdest thing: painstakingly introducing a parade of human and animal characters who barely figure, abandoning its elaborate spy plot for a freestanding animal story, and wrapping up with a hasty voiceover.

      Which is my beef with the film, I was into the Western/Spy angle and less on those animals. It’s trying to have it both ways I suppose. Not succeeding or failing either way, it’s just in the middle.

      And I would agree with Fred this was purely a vanity project for Dale (he even gets a “Presents” credit).

  • No Calamity Jane, the semi-Canadian series that aired on WB’s Saturday Morning lineup?

    • Fred will probably talk about it next week (if it is considered a foreign production).

    • Also may I add Disney Junior’s Sherriff Callie’s Wild West to the list.

  • There was also the 1980 Filmation-produced “Lone Ranger” series, in which William Conrad (using the pseudonym J. Darnoc) voiced the title role.

  • How about Go Go Gophers which was created by the same animation studios that brought Underdog and Tennessee Tuxedo and Flukey Luke which aired on the Milton the Monster Show and The C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa (which was highly forgettable series)?

    • “Wild West C.O.W.-boys of Moo Mesa” (can the title get any more unwieldy?) was forgettable in the sense that I tried hard to forget it. The characters were anthropomorphized cows with downright ugly character design – and because of the network’s anti-violence dictates, the C.O.W.-boys’ guns did not fire bullets, but shuriken-like projectiles that resembled sheriff badges.

    • By that point in time I was already done with Saturday morning and moved on with my life.

  • And I forget to mention Filmation’s remake of The Lone Ranger which was a highly acceptable series including the epilogue featuring Famous Americans of the late 19th century.

    • Yeah I’m sure there’s plenty of space to fill that’s not being filled here already. I forgot about C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa until you said something.

  • The Lone Ranger cartoon is a beautiful and strange production and deserves a DVD release. There is nothing like it. Agnes Moorehead! is in that “Cat People” episode. Since you mentioned it, Deputy Dawg has some of the nicest backgrounds I’ve ever seen in a television cartoon (including the handful of theatricals). Great article.

    • Correction, she’s in the “Cult of the Black Widow” episode.

  • “Pecos Bill” was censored for the VHS release as well. I remember it being mentioned in the Whole Toon Catalog. (But Disney Channel airings remained uncensored.)

    • I seem to remember the gag of Indians and war paint being lopped out of some television showings; it’s intact on the DVD.

    • I recall Pecos Bill being left alone for the most part on Disney Channel in the 80’s, funny how much can change in 10-20-30 years.

  • Anyone remember an old 60s cartoon called “Flukey Luke”? I remember he was a western cowboy who always screwed things up but always saved the day at the end. But I think his episodes took place in a big city rather than on the range.

    • “Flukey Luke” was a character who rotated in the “Milton the Monster” show along with “Fearless Fly”, “Muggy Do” and “Stuffy Derma”. All I really remember was that his Indian sidekick had an Irish brogue.

    • The only “Flukey Luke” that I ever saw was a 1950s Dell 3-D comic book, when I was 13 or 14 years old. I din’t know that it had ever been animated. I wondered at the time just who Flukey Luke was to be worth devoting a whole 3-D comic book to.

  • Whatever you do, don’t Google “Bobby Driscoll” unless you want to get seriously depressed.

    • Reminded of R. Crumb’s older brother having a very unhealthy obession with Driscoll as well.

  • As for the 1966 “Lone Ranger” series, the statement that “Jack Wrather Corporation… developed the popular radio adventures and live-action TV series” is not entirely true. The radio series was developed by WXYZ boss George W. Trendle (who happliy claimed creator credit) and writers Jim Jewell and Fran Striker. Wrather, a Texas oil tycoon of the old school, bought all rights to the Lone Ranger properties (as well as the Lassie character) in the mid-1950s. He increased the budget on the TV series, filming it in color, with more outdoor shots, and a new theme song.

  • One problem I recall Filmation’s Lone Ranger having had was that, along with Zorro, most of the rotoscoped action cycles for its star character were created by tracing over material originally made for Tarzan. This became really obvious when Tarzan, the Ranger, and Zorro were packaged together in the same show and run back-to-back!

    I remember well the look of the 60’s Lone Ranger, with those heavy, woodcut-style backgrounds and quite “cartoony” facial expressions. The other show of that time I remember combining that kind of styling with an action premise was (of all things) De Patie-Freleng’s “Super President/Spy Shadow,” though with more conventional backgrounds. (It also had terrific background music, by whom I can’t remember. Doug Goodwin, possibly?)

  • And the Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa

  • Hi,
    I am forever looking up TV shows from my childhood but there is one cartoon western that I have never been able to find. All I can remember about it is a repeated line “Tar and feathers is an old western tradition…” and then different characters would be given the treatment.

    Not much to go on but any help would be gratefully received. It will be no later that mid 1970s, more like 1960s….

  • Trying to find a particular cartoon. Cowboy chases the horse, horse comes across cows he stands a puts his hoof on the cow and says moo. Who remembers this and what cartoon was it in.

  • The Man from Button Willow is the first one.

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