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.
U. 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, 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.
Hoot 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.