Animation Cel-ebration
July 3, 2023 posted by Michael Lyons

Classic TV Cartoons Go “Fourth!”

As Independence Day approaches, in addition to firing up the grill and settling into the backyard, you may want to pour a big bowl of sugary cereal and sit down in front of the TV. When television cartoons ruled the airways on Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons, there were several that were patriotic in their themes and settings.

The Funky Phantom

Airing on ABC in 1971 and produced by Hanna Barbera, The Funky Phantom used the “Scooby-Doo” model for its premise (as did many of the studio’s shows produced during the decade). In The Funky Phantom, a group of groovy teenagers goes on misadventures with a ghost in place of a Great Dane.

The backdrop of the show (playing out in the opening credits and theme song) centers on three teenagers, Augie (Tommy Cook), Skip (Micky Dolenz of The Monkees), and April (Kristina Holland). They, along with their dog Elmo (Hanna-Barbera stalwart Don Messick), out traveling one night in their dune buggy (the “Looney Duney”), take shelter from a storm in an old house.

Once inside, they (for no particular reason) set a grandfather clock to midnight and release the titular ghost Jonathan Wellington Muddlemore, a/k/a “Mudsy,” and his cat, Boo. He is from the Revolutionary War (declaring himself as “The Spirit of 1776, even!” when he first appears).

Another Hanna-Barbera regular, Daws Butler provides the voice of Mudsy, in an almost replica of his Snagglepuss character voice, which, in turn, recalls the performance of actor Bert Lahr as The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz.

While The Funky Phantom hasn’t had the staying power of other Hanna-Barbera series from the time, it’s still well remembered by an entire generation. It holds its own as one of many Hanna-Barbera guilty pleasures of the ’70s.

Hector Heathcote

Hector Heathcote made his first appearance on July 4th, 1959, in the theatrical short subject The Minute and a Half Man. Set in the Colonial era and narrated by veteran character actor, John Myhers, the short set the character’s personality of an inept teenager who attempts to keep up with his Minute Men peers.

Produced by the Terrytoons Studio, Hector got his own TV show (aptly titled The Hector Heathcote Show) which aired on NBC from 1963-1965. “Bundled” with shorts featuring two other Terrytoons characters, Hashimoto Mouse and Silly Sidney the Elephant, the show combined theatrical and new Hector Heathcote shorts.

In them, Hector (created by story artist Eli Bauer) would find himself involved in different moments in American history, with his bulldog, Winston, by his side, he’d face off against the show’s villain Benedict.

Sprinkled with fun moments (talking about the Minutemen, the announcer notes that “these brave men dropped everything,” after which Hector’s pants fall down), Hector Heathcote isn’t an American history lesson; it’s more of an animation history lesson of Terrytoons of another time.

US of Archie

As the nation approached the Bicentennial celebration on July 4th, 1976, a patriotic fervor spread across the country in the years prior. As part of this, Filmation Studio, which had the animated rights to the Archie comics since first bringing the characters to TV with 1968’s The Archie Show, brought us this spin on their already popular series.

Debuting on CBS in 1974, US of Archie featured the usual gang: Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, and Reggie. Here, instead of hanging around Pop’s Chock’lit Shop, they re-enact significant moments in American history (everything from Votes for Women to the Underground Railroad). With its historical backdrop, the show was lighter on cartoon comedy and heavier on education. US of Archie wasn’t as highly favored by fans, and, unfortunately, the show just barely made it to the Bicentennial and was canceled in September of 1976.

Watching the show today, USA of Archie may not be perfect, but it is a red, white, and blue capsule of that time of patriotic popularity.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero

Fondly remembered by an entire generation, this syndicated animated series followed an elite military team (codename, G.I. Joe) who battle Cobra, the fictional terrorist organization.

Th show was based on a popular toy produced by Hasbro, who brought the iconic GI Joe out of retirement and created a new toy line of action figures in 1982. For their marketing campaign, Hasbro partnered with Marvel Productions to produce animation for the toy’s commercials. These proved so popular that they gave way to a 1983 mini-series and eventually a regular series in 1985, which ran until 1986, returning from 1989-1992.

G.I. Joe, the series, was produced to provide a positive look at the military, include uplifting messages, and sidestep controversy by avoiding any violence (if a plane were shot out of the sky, for example, those inside would parachute to safety).

Each episode concluded with a “public service announcement,” featuring a member of the G.I. Joe cast teaching kids a lesson about everything from telling the truth to good sportsmanship. They would end with the show’s catchphrase, “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!”

With a large cast of distinct characters and ongoing stories, the series, which ran simultaneously with the popular G.I. Joe Marvel comics, became a massive part of the pop-culture consciousness at the time. So lasting is the show’s impact that it has spawned everything from conventions to big-budget, live-action movies in 2009 and 2013, with another, Snake Eyes: G.I. Jo Origins, scheduled for release this summer.

All of it came together to have a tremendous impact on kids of the ’80s. Actress Mary McDonald-Lewis, who voiced the character of Lady Jaye on the show, told The Hollywood Reporter: “It was a culmination of events really that led to GI Joe becoming the lasting myth for the boys and girls of that era, many of whom were our nation’s first latchkey kids. Women were returning to the workforce, and kids all across America, whether they were rural, urban, or suburban, were coming home after school, grabbing a snack, and turning on GI Joe and Transformers. They felt safe with us and as though we were part of their home life.”

And so, from phantoms who were funky and Joes who would “GO!” these series show that at one time in television animation, the Independence Day spirit wasn’t just reserved for the Fourth of July.

Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday!


  • Leave us not forget:

    Uncle Sam Magoo
    Mr. Magoo as Uncle Sam pays tribute to American history in an hour-long special from 1970.

    This is America, Charlie Brown
    The Peanuts characters observe key developments and innovations of American history in a mini-series from the 1980s.

    Liberty’s Kids
    A PBS animated series featuring Walter Cronkite as the voice of Benjamin Franklin.

    Those three are close to the top of my list.

    • I remember Liberty’s Kids. Walter Cronkite’s portrayal of Benjamin Franklin was so memorable.

  • I vaguely remember a sequel to A Cricket in Times Square… Ah, Yankee Doodle Cricket, I did not know it was by Chuck Jones.

    • It was Chuck Jones. Both of them. The cricket’s name was Chester

  • And of course, who could forget those classic America Rocks segments of Schoolhouse Rock, which birthed some of the most iconic segments of edutainment like “I’m Just A Bill”, “No More Kings”, and “The Preamble”?

  • Some theatrical cartoons worth mentioning:
    “Old Glory”, 1939, a mostly straight Warner cartoon with Uncle Sam teaching little Porky Pig about American history. The history scenes use a lot of rotoscope.
    “Bunker Hill Bunny”, 1950, which pits Bugs Bunny against a Hessian Yosemite Sam. Solid comedy short, the battle consisting of just the two of them with a supply of cannons and explosives.
    “Ben and Me”, 1953, Disney’s featurette about a mouse who was — in his autobiography, at least — largely responsible for Ben Franklin’s achievements. A light but engaging adaptation of a book.
    “Yankee Doodle Pink”, 1976, casts Pink Panther as a mute Paul Revere, trying to deliver handbills reading “The Red Coats Are Coming!” with an uncooperative Hessian horse. On a par with other late Panther toons.

  • The Funky Phantom was perhaps partly inspired by the Abbott & Costello film “The Time of Their Lives,” in which Lou portrayed a Revolutionary-era ghost who “haunts” Bud.

  • My aunt went to her grave claiming the story idea for “Mouse on the Mayflower” was stolen from her.

  • Quick correction on “Funky Phantom”: Elmo’s voice was by Jerry Dexter.

  • There was also “Freedom is”, made by the same people who did “Christmas is” and “Easter is”.

  • Re Hector Heathcote. The name “Heathcote” comes from a wealthy neighborhood in the town of Scarsdale, NY, the next town over from New Rochelle, where Terrytoons was located. It was the name of a colonial-era family that had manorial rights in the area. I imagine it may have been a little joke among the Terrytoons animators to swipe at their upper-crust neighbors.

  • John Mhyers not only narrated Hector Heathcoat, he also voiced the patriotic character and his enemy Benedict.

  • I remember a little known cartoon short called the sprit of 76 it showed a revolutionary war ghost talking to a modern day boy it was I believe made during the bicentennial year I was 8 n I remember the cartoon they made a few of them

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