Christopher P. Lehman
April 17, 2023 posted by Christopher Lehman

The End of the Silver Age of Animation

I’ve written previously about the end of the Silver Age of theatrical cartoon shorts in 1972. As that year ended, only one studio (DePatie-Freleng) actively produced cartoons, and only one of their series (The Blue Racer) had new episodes released to theaters. The start of the Bronze Age in 1973 was quite different from the previous year in terms of production—only fifteen new cartoons released to theaters and from only one facility, as opposed to the two dozen films from DePatie-Freleng (eleven episodes) and Walter Lantz (thirteen episodes) in 1972. However, for audiences and exhibitors, the transition from the Silver Age to the Bronze Age was smoother.

Concerning production, DePatie-Freleng released more theatrical cartoons in 1973 than in 1972. Although the films from 1972 came from three series (Pink Panther, Tijuana Toads, Blue Racer), the films of 1973 came from two series.

Joining the Blue Racer was the Western sheriff Hoot Kloot—the only new series of the year. Hoot Kloot made his debut on January 19, but the follow-up did not appear in theaters until June 16. DePatie-Freleng released six episodes of the series between June 16 and October 15.

DePatie-Freleng’s erratic release schedule in 1973 resulted in some long gaps between new cartoons. October 1972 was the first month in which no new cartoon from any studio was released, but in 1973 almost three months passed between the releases of DePatie-Freleng’s Wham and Eggs (February 18) and Killarney Blarney (May 16). The studio released nothing in July, September, November, and December.

On the other hand, audiences enjoyed many of the same offerings as in the previous year. The Ukiah Daily Journal was one of the few newspapers to advertise individual titles of cartoon shorts from local theaters during the Bronze Age. Among the titles listed in 1973 were the previous year’s episodes from Walter Lantz that had not yet appeared in theaters there. The newspaper promoted the Beary Family’s A Fish Story as a “new cartoon” that October, for example. Ukiah’s theaters also began exhibiting Lantz’s reissues of cartoons from the early 1960s. Having shut down production in 1972, Lantz annually released thirteen old cartoons through Universal from 1973 onward.

Ukiah’s exhibitors also showed several old films from Terrytoons that year. Since 1969, Twentieth Century-Fox had distributed some of Terrytoons’s made-for-television cartoons from the ’60s to theaters, and 1973 was no exception. Films starring Astronut, Hector Heathcoate, Luno, and the Mighty Heroes appeared in theaters.

One old offering was repackaged for the Bronze Age. Walt Disney Productions celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 1973, and it began reissuing episodes of Mickey Mouse from over four decades earlier that fall (and into 1974). Newspapers all over the country announced the arrival of The Klondike Kid (1932) in “glorious black-and-white.” Disney was tapping into the wave of nostalgia in national popular culture at the time. For example, the new live-action movie Paper Moon was a hit that year, despite being filmed in black and white and set in the Great Depression. Here’s how they opened these reissues (this one for Touchdown Mickey):

That same fall Ivy Films released the late producer Max Fleischer’s films of the 1920s and ’30s as a compilation film. Some of the episodes in the compilation starred Betty Boop. Ivy titled the film The Betty Boop Scandals of 1974. The word “scandals” likely had a double-meaning: a reference to the Hays Code’s conservative revamping of the famous flapper and a nod to the current Watergate scandal. The compilation was the first of multiple compilations of old shorts to appear in theaters over the next decade or so.

In 1973 the dearth of new offerings and the innovations in repackaging old ones for theaters set the tone for the remainder of the Bronze Age.

Since the passing of Walt Disney in December 1966, the Hollywood cartoon was in freefall. Without an apparent leader, with the rise of Saturday morning kids TV programming, the industry as it was… was in disarray. Hanna Barbera and Filmation limited animation became dominant. Ralph Bakshi emerged with adult-skewing theatrical features that soon became the norm.

Animation was evolving. We just didn’t know it then – and in 1973-74, we had no idea what it was evolving into.


  • The “wave of nostalgia” in 1973 was huge. In addition to “Paper Moon”, “The Sting”, another film set during the Depression, won the Oscar for Best Picture that year and made a Top 40 hit our of Scott Joplin’s ragtime tune “The Entertainer”. The first of the flashbacks in “The Way We Were” takes place in the 1930s. “Dillinger”, “Class of ’44”, remakes of “Double Indemnity” and “Lost Horizon”, and that hit TV series “The Waltons”. MAD magazine noticed the phenomenon and posited that the world had become such an awful place by 1973 that even the Great Depression looked good by comparison.

    I remember that a Beary Family cartoon was shown when I saw “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. I took the opportunity to step out to the lobby.

    • The Great Depression represented by Hollywood and especially in its animation looks like a fun place. The real thing may well seem like a paradise compared to what the near future may hold if we as a society don’t quickly learn our lessons.

    • Good on you Paul Groh. I mean, those Beary Family cartoons are awful! They are the worst! Those Walter Lantz cartoons are the lowest of the low! The Woody Woodpecker cartoons got awful. Watch this video on what Woody Woodpecker should be spoofing.

      According to Chuck Jones, who hated Woody Woodpecker, if the character has no want, and there conflict, that makes him a bully!

    • They are the worst things ever! Not even cartoons!

  • In the late 60s and early 70s, it was more usual for Disney shorts to accompany new Disney films in first run. But in the 70s I definitely recall some Mickey Mouse shorts being paired with non-Disney feature films. If memory serves, advertisements for “Chinatown” mentioned the MM short “Shanghaied” beside the feature. I seem to recall that “Two-Gun Mickey” was another of these classic shorts to get revived alongside a new non-Disney feature (was it “Blazing Saddles”?) I was at the time too young to see these adult-oriented films, so I never got to witness this in action, but it was certainly reminiscent of the early days when MM shorts accompanied a variety of other studios’ output.

  • That Touchdown Mickey intro sure was interesting. As Jiminy Cricket would say, “What a buildup.”

    • I wished they used something like that when they did “Get A Horse!” a decade ago.

  • That intro to the Mickey Mouse was so corny that it made me not want to enjoy whatever cartoon was to follow.

    • Corny? I thought it was clever. Matter of fact, I wonder if Ward Kimbal came up with that intro. It sure felt like one of his playful gags.

    • But that was intentional, playing right into the nostalgia craze by deliberately spoofing the kind of ballyhoo often used in movie trailers of the 30s.

  • I kind of felt the same way. The vintage MICKEY MOUSE cartoon I saw was THE MAIL PILOT. I would have liked it better if they had shown a better cartoon like THE MAD DOCTOR or MICKEY’S SERVICE STATION.

    • I think “The Mail Pilot” was a nice Mickey centered short. It did inspired a great tie-in storyline in the spin-off comic strip.

  • In the 70s you had a generation that grew up watching 30s-40s cartoons daily on television. Selling an old B&W cartoon as a big theatrical deal, even if that specific one hadn’t been run to death, might have come off as a corn dog under glass.

    That intentionally hokey prologue did the job for Mickey. Its pretentiousness was a joke but nonetheless established a sense of occasion:, it emphatically set the era as the 1930s as opposed to a recent TV show; and it was just simple enough not to upstage a fun but decidedly basic rubber-hose toon.

    Betty Boop revivals had some huge advantages. The surrealism took on a new meaning in the 60s, the music was back in style, and there’s always a market for naughty humor. Betty herself, grown scarce on TV because of censors and the rejection of B&W, had a kinship with the cult favorite Paramount films of Mae West and the Marx Brothers. On top of all that, underground cartoonists drew on the Fleischer visual style, and mainstream pop culture followed. So that image of Betty and the inkwell would have registered even with people who didn’t even know who she was.

    “Bugs Bunny Superstar” pulled off a slightly different trick. It featured cartoons that HAD been run to death on local television, and the movie targeted the now-grown kids who’d nearly memorized them. The appeal was a chance — a first-ever chance for most of the audience — to see these toons on a big screen with a big audience. While it was G-rated and family friendly, the presentation was officially keyed to adults (You won’t believe what you missed as a kid!) to give them “permission” to attend what otherwise would have been a kiddie matinee.

  • Kind of wished “The Beary Family” regulated as a comic feature instead after Jack Hannah (and then Al Bertino and Dick Kinney) left the studio. Smith and Howard just couldn’t cut it. Matter of fact, I just read an overseas “Disney’s Adventure of Gummi Bears” (which was just published for the first time in U.S. in Fantagraphic’s second Disney Afternoon collection) that was one of Cal Howard’s last things he wrote and despite being a bit uneven, I found it way better than that Beary Family short posted above (it kind of made up for it too).

  • How’d I miss The Blue Racer? Probably having spent most of the ’70s immersed in 1930-1959 pop culture. (Somehow I still don’t think I missed much.) Late May or early June 1974 introduced me to black and white Popeye, and life was never the same. In those days Disney cartoons played so seldom on television it was supposedly something of an honor when they did, which is why I’m probably not the only one who found it difficult to warm up to them. Now Warner Bros. cartoons, that’s comfort food!

  • Looks like Walter Lantz never went Xerograph. (That’s what I’d call that particular animation era: the Xerography years.)

    • Yep, even Paramount went there during its last year in the 60’s.

  • Historically we don’t have to pretend that a golden age was followed by a lesser metal. Sometimes a golden age is followed by a Dark Age. Or a cataclysm. The death of the Golden Age was when the TV started to dominate the entertainment world. We’re in the Silver Age now, in my opinion. Quality, mostly, over quantity. The 60’s? The Age of Tin. Possibly Brass or Cardboard. Definitely no Bronze being used.

  • Funny how it feels like my generation is addicted to nostalgia from the 80’s and 90s, yet I can imagine what recalling back to what was deemed nostalgia fodder in the 1970s was like. It’s interesting how much history always has a way of repeating itself.

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