Animation History
September 23, 2013 posted by Charles Brubaker

DePatie-Freleng “Public Service Announcements”


DePatie-Freleng (DFE) was one of the major animation studios active in the 1960s and ’70s, mostly made up of Looney Tunes animators after Warner Bros. closed down their animation studio. They didn’t do that many television series, but they were kept busy for over 17 years, producing theatrical shorts well into the late 1970s when other studios gave up. They were also noted for their television specials, many of them based on the works of Dr. Seuss.

Then you have the commercials. David H. DePatie was in charge of Warner Bros’ commercial division and built rapport with numerous ad agencies, so when he and Friz formed their own company they were able to have commercial work flowing. In the 1970s, they got more work flowing when the ABC Television Network commissioned DFE to produce PSAs that would air during their Saturday Morning blocks. Many of them are still remembered by people who grew up watching them, not knowing that they were done by the same people that made the Pink Panther shorts.

For this post, I decided to highlight some of those PSAs.

Time for Timer
Timer is probably one of the most well-known of these PSAs. The character first appeared in an hour-long television special The Incredible, Indelible, Magical Physical, Mystery Trip, which aired on ABC in February 7, 1973. The special, directed by former UPA production manager Herbert Klynn, featured Timer taking two kids to visit inside the body of their uncle, Carl (played by Hal Smith in live-action scenes), showing how certain body parts struggle due to his poor health habits. The character appeared in one more special The Magical Mystery Trip Through Little Red’s Head (1974), where Timer takes two kids to go inside their older sister’s head.

The specials were well received when they aired. It was enough to have the characters be used in a series of PSAs, running between 30 seconds to 1 minute. Timer’s songs about healthy eating is memorable and still fondly remembered today. The character appeared in Family Guy, where Peter complained that his constant singing is keeping him awake next door. He also appeared in Robot Chicken, ensuring that his legacy won’t be forgotten entirely.

Here’s one PSA. Storyboarded by Art Leonardi (see image below – click to enlarge).


The Bod Squad
This was yet another series of PSAs that DFE has done. Like Timer, the purpose was to teach kids on how to be healthy, promoting body hygiene and healthy nutrition. These segments would run for 30 seconds and would feature catchy songs.

Some of these Bod Squad PSAs feature singing work by Scatman Crothers, such as this one. The appealingly grotesque animation was done by Don Williams, long-time animator dating back to the 1930s. (Thanks to Mike Kazaleh for ID’ing this)

Don’t Drown Your Food
Sometimes PSAs can be incredibly pointless, and this is a good example. Healthy eating and taking care of your body is, obviously, important, so it makes sense to promote them to kids, but one has to ponder why smothering your food with sauce is enough of a big deal to do an entire PSA about it.

At least we got a catchy song out of this. That’s Arnold Stang doing the voice, having lent his talent for Herman the Mouse and Top Cat years before this. His biggest role for DFE was being the voice of Catfish, Misterjaw’s sidekick in a series of shorts that aired on the Pink Panther Show in the 1970s.

Make a Saturdae
Another PSA focusing on healthy snacks, this time focusing on a “Saturdae” (it’s just like Sundae). Doesn’t stand out as much, but here it is since it fits with my subject.

These PSAs aired for a long-time, well after DFE closed down their studio (circa. 1979). They’re not as famous as Schoolhouse Rock, but to anyone who grew up watching ABC Saturday Mornings, they still bring back nostalgic memories.


  • Ah, that Saturdae PSA was certainly my favorite! And who didn’t love Lennie Weinrib as Timer?

    • Thinking about it, I never had a Saturdae at all. I suppose I never asked my mom for pineapple or yogurt as much to bother, but yeah, I remember this well.

  • The gist of the “Don’t Drown Your Food” is supposed to be that most condiments are high in fats and salts, so you should limit your intake of them. It ties into the general “healthy eating” theme of most of these PSA’s, but the connection isn’t explained at all so it’s borderline incoherent.

    I don’t know if it’s DFE or not, but there’s a contemporary PSA about this Fonzie-esque greaser named Chopper who extolls the virtues of “exercising your teeth”. Similar to the lifeguard one, the message is framed so bizarrely that the intended message (eat food slowly so you can get fuller faster) is completely lost.

    • That is very true of some of these (given those ones last thirty seconds, you’d think it wouldn’t hurt to go another 30 just to explain why).

    • Here’s the “Chopper” commercial.

  • I have never forgotten Timer’s “Make Time for Breakfast” PSA (“Look! A wagon wheel!”) but only recently learned about Incredible, Indelible, Magical Physical, Mystery Trip and Magical Mystery Trip Through Little Red’s Head. The nostalgia site SatAMBrainFood claims to offer VHS rips on DVD for a donation; guess I’ll have to take the risk.

  • Right now the opening sequences of the first two Timer Afterschool specials are on youtube, The First, PHYSICAL MYSTERY TRIP was up in its entirety for a couple months, but now appears to be taken down. I watched it a few times, and it has to be one of the darkest, scariest, and just plain weirdest specials meant for children I’ve ever seen. (Little Red’s head was MUCH more upbeat, as I remember seeing that on TV many years ago) Even the ending was rather bittersweet and open-ended. Some points about these specials always puzzled me, though..
    How did Timer end up working in Little Red when we first saw him in Uncle Carl? Did Uncle Carl suffer a massive coronary? Do body components have a strong union and he got transferred? Was Uncle Carl reincarnated as little Red?
    In little Red, how come in the head of a female, the majority of the working body parts are depicted as male? Wouldn’t Red at least have a female version of Timer, maybe called Timette?
    How is Timer capable of pulling his magical stunts? I didn’t think the Human body was capable of magic. I would think somehow Timer is linked into the neurotransmissions of the brain, so he can zap himself anyplace inside the body instantly. But able to go outside and shrink people? I’ve heard a theory that the Human brain has considerably more power than it actually uses. I’m betting Timer can tap into that extra power, and that much extra power is capable of doing a lot. (Kind of like the old saw of bending a spoon with the power of your mind)

  • Wasn’t there a Timer spot where he was pushing cheese as a snack? That’s the one that sticks in my mind.

    • That’s really the only one I recall, although adolescence had diminished my appetite for Saturday morning by then. For a while I made a ritual of checking out new fall shows, but even that became a chore.

    • “Hanker for a hunka, a slab or slice or chunka, hanker for a hunka cheese!!”

    • “I hanker for a hunk of cheese!” I remember that one.

    • “That’s really the only one I recall,”

      This is it.

      “although adolescence had diminished my appetite for Saturday morning by then. For a while I made a ritual of checking out new fall shows, but even that became a chore.”

      I think we’ve all went through that phase in our lives. For me simply the new fall schedule on any station was a welcome edition from the drudgery of the return to autumn and all it represents to me (cold, dark, miserable). It was the only thing that kept me going as a 12 year old when I didn’t want to be reminded I had school for the next 9 months or so.

  • My favorite Timer short was “Sunshine on a Stick,” where he taught us to make homemade Popsicles with orange juice, toothpicks, and an old-fashioned metal ice cube tray. I still make those to this day with various kinds of juice.

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