Animation Cel-ebration
September 15, 2023 posted by Michael Lyons

Something For Every Body: Looking Back at DePatie Freleng’s “Timer”

A meme has been circulating featuring an offbeat cartoon character standing in a freezer. Above this, it states: “It’s February 1976, and this weirdo who looks like he has jaundice just came on TV in the middle of cartoons and told me to fill our ice cube trays with orange juice.”

This comical meme shows just how much an entire generation remembers a unique character named Timer. Created by the DePatie-Freleng animation studio (most famous for the Pink Panther series), Timer was a round, yellow-colored character with a pointy nose, bow tie, and top hat designed to represent the sense of time in the human body.

Timer was different from other cartoon characters on Saturday Morning in that he didn’t have his own show but was used mainly in educational and public service announcements, which would air throughout the regular schedule and became indelible for young audiences at the time.

The segments would focus on self-care, particularly around one’s diet and how to create quick snacks (hence, the orange juice in the ice trays).

Timer began life fifty years ago as a character on the ABC Afterschool Special, which were specials dealing with educational or informative topics aimed at children that usually aired on weekday afternoons.

On this anthology show, one of the specials was The Incredible, Indelible, Magical, Physical Mystery Trip, which began in live-action and transitions to animation, as two kids are taken on a trip inside their uncle’s body to learn how the human body works, thanks to the character of Timer.

Airing on February 7, 1973, this special marked the debut of this character, and one year later, he would return in the sequel Afterschool Special, The Magical Mystery Trip Through Little Red’s Head. It was similar in plot, except this time, two kids travel inside their sister’s body to learn how the mind works.

From here, Timer lived on in Saturday morning TV infamy for multiple generations, appearing in different educational, interstitial animated segments, each about a minute long, that would air between regular programming (similar to Schoolhouse Rock).

Each would open with the character greeting kids at home and declaring, “Time for Timer!” before launching into the segment.

In “I Hanker for a Hunk of Cheese,” Timer appears as a cowboy and sings about the benefit of cheese and how it can help curb your hunger and tide you over until dinner. “When I’m slow on the draw and I need somethin’ to chaw,” he sings, “I hanker for a hunk of cheese.” He then shows us all at home how cheese and crackers (“wagon wheels,” as they’re called in the segment) can satisfy our appetite.

Storyboard by Art Leonardi

“Eat Some Kind of Breakfast” featured Timer singing and talking about how important breakfast is and how eating anything (including cold steak, chicken, or lunch meat) when standard breakfast foods aren’t available is better than eating nothing for breakfast.

With “Don’t Knock it ‘Til You Try it,” Timer attempted to speak to all the kids who were picky eaters (“Don’t quibble ‘til you nibble, a dabble, or a dibble”) and “Have a carrot” looked to have Timer convince kids that munching on vegetables was a better alternative to junk food.

“Sunshine on a Stick” was all about Timer providing the recipe for the aforementioned orange juice in an ice cube tray to make miniature popsicles, and “Take Care of Yourself’ could almost be considered a sequel to this, as Timer provides instructions on the proper way to brush your teeth (“Every day you must protect them, or else cavities will wreck them!”)

And with “You Are What You Eat,” Timer finds himself inside the human digestive system, letting us all know how careful we need to be about what food we put into our body.

When the character debuted in The Incredible, Indelible, Magical, Physical Mystery Trip, he was voiced by actor Len Maxwell (who had provided the voice for the character Punchy in the Hawaiian Punch commercials, as well as several members of the cast in the series Batfink).

After this first appearance, Timer was voiced by Lenny Weinrib, a comedian and writer who did a number of animated voices, including Scrappy-Doo.

Each one of the Timer segments featured a consultant credit at the conclusion for Dr. Roslyn B. Alfin-Slater, UCLA School of Public Health, and the design within the shorts was a very whimsical (the digestive system in one is devised like a factory) and indicative of DePatie-Freleng’s work at the time. This, partnered with the fast-moving animation and the quick-talking, vaudeville-style performance of Timer, has made these PSAs so memorable for so many.

Additionally, in their creative, entertaining way, the “Time for Timer” segments were informative and educational moments of illumination for many young minds. Best of all, they are all currently available on YouTube, so if you’re feeling nostalgic, pour some orange juice in an ice cube tray, make yourself some toothpick popsicles, and spend some time with Timer all over again.


  • “When my get up and go has got up and went,
    And I’m feelin’ kinda weak in the knees,
    I hanker for a hunka!
    A slab or slice or chunka!
    A snack that’s such a winner,
    Yet doesn’t spoil my dinner!
    I hanker for a hunka CHEESE!”

    Back in the day I assumed that Timer was an anthropomorphic blob of yellow cheese. I thought it would be funny if his public service announcements ended with him getting chased off by a bunch of mice.

    Years later, Timer had a cameo in an episode of “Family Guy”. They tried to get Lennie Weinrib to reprise the role, but he had retired to South America and couldn’t remember how to do the character. So Seth MacFarlane, as usual, did the voice himself.

    Come to think of it, it’s strange that ABC found it necessary to show public service announcements stressing the importance of eating breakfast, when they used to run about twenty-five cereal commercials every hour on Saturday mornings and get paid big money for doing so.

  • Some words appear to have been deleted from this article’s heading.

    It should read:
    “….The 47th anniversary”.”

    • Timer began life fifty years ago as a character on the ABC Afterschool Special […]

      Airing on February 7, 1973, this special marked the debut of this character

      The anniversary month passed by over half a year ago, but we are still in the 50th anniversary year of Timer…

  • Back when there were four food groups, as shown by another animated Saturday morning PSA of the era not starring Timer but a professor who glares at a book to keep it from closing (much like the fairy in the opening of “Fractured Fairy Tales”). Also back when animation was done almost entirely on 2s and Xerography made everybody look frayed around the edge.

    I still freeze juice, not in ice cube trays but in freezer-safe cups to scoop out. Very refreshing.

  • Dexter’s Laboratory later did a similar segment about making popsicles in an ice tray:

  • Timer’s first appearance (PHYSICAL MYSTERY TRIP) had to be one of the most dark-toned, bittersweet specials ever produced. We never end up knowing if Uncle Carl decides to shape up or not. And that song the little girl sings (Far Away From Home) sounds like a funeral dirge. LITTLE RED’S HEAD had a more upbeat tone. Both specials are on YouTube.

  • If my memory is correct the original version of “Hunk Of Cheese had Timer talking in his regular voice throughout.
    I Believe it was 1979 when it was changed to a slightly deeper mid western drawl; that most people know.
    Does the original normal voice original still exist?

  • Thanks for ensuring nightmares tonight, Mr. Lyons.

    • : D ! You are welcome!

  • I never heard of Timer until today. I guess I’m too old!

    The sound effects in the imbedded video are familiar to me as a fan of the DFE theatrical cartoons.

  • Christopher Mulwee: correct. I remember when they did that voice change too — but why?

  • Hanka for a hunka Cheese..make mine Italian! Loved TIMER!

  • Lennie Weinrib wore many hats (actor, writer, comedian, impressionist) in addition to being a busy voice artist. A sampling of his iconic characters includes H.R. Pufnstuf (a series for which he wrote every episode), Inch High Private Eye, Bat Mite, and Moonrock from Pebbles & Bamm Bamm.

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