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.