Animation History
February 10, 2014 posted by

“The Mighty Hunters” (1940)


Leon Schlesinger’s Merrie Melodies cartoon The Mighty Hunters (1940) is one of a brief experiment by the producer to adapt other artists work to animation (Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hatches The Egg (1942) is another).

Schlesinger was known to resist the idea of making a feature film to compete with Disney’s success – and perhaps, in the period before Bugs Bunny was to emerge as a cartoon super star, he thought he’d instead augment his cartoon slate with known quantities like Dr. Suess or Jimmy Swinnerton’s characters – choosing two cartoonist/writers with established appeal to the wide range of movie goers (from 6-to-60, as they’d say).

James Swinnerton was best known for creating the long-running “Little Jimmy” comic strip for Hearst newspapers, beginning in 1904. The character was adapted to animation in 1936 in a Max Fleischer Betty Boop cartoon. In 1922, Swinnerton also began drawing another popular feature for Hearst’s Good Housekeeping magazine – this was “Canyon Kiddies” and it ran till 1941.

In 1939, Schlesinger signed up Swinnerton’s “Canyon Kiddies” for a proposed series of animated cartoons. Chuck Jones was selected to direct. This was Jones in his all-out Disney period where character and story took precedent over gags and exaggerated animation. Jones and his crew even took a trip to Arizona to shoot reference footage at an Indian reservation. Swinnerton was engaged to paint the backgrounds – in oils, as opposed to the usual watercolor paints. Swinnerton also drew promotional artwork as well (see above).

The resultant cartoon, The Mighty Hunters, came out in January 1940 and was given a little more publicity than the average Merrie Melodie. The New York Journal American printed this large broadsheet in full color (below, click to enlarge) – a huge promotion for a Warner Bros. cartoon at the time.


The cartoon itself didn’t endear itself to movie goers and plans for a series were dropped. It’s gentle humor was not in tune with the times. A few months later Tex Avery’s A Wild Hare would be released and would cement the studios “zany” reputation.

The Mighty Hunters is not on DVD. Below is an embed from a Russian website – with a Russian narrator over dubbing the Shepperd Strudwick original track. However, as the film is mostly in pantomime – and the Russian narrator is amusing – its worth a watch this way.

(Thanks, Bruce Simon)


  • Evidently they were in a hurry to get this on screens once it was done. Film Daily reported on Dec. 13, 1939 it was before the cameras. Variety reported on Dec. 18th the scoring was done. Leon Schlesinger boarded the Super Chief for New York on the 26th with a print of it.
    Production, according to the trades, began on Feb. 6, 1939 (Swinnerton’s week-long trip to the Grand Canyon with the Jones unit was that month) and Schlesinger expected it to take a year to complete. With a schedule like that, I don’t know how he could have expected it to be a series.

  • A version without Russian overdub:
    (or #26 in this playlist:

    • Oh, bless you. I took a glimpse at the images and the Merrie Memories came flooding back; I loved this cartoon as a child and was sad to see it wasn’t on DVD (though I can fully understand why). Thanks for the Archive link!

  • I believe I’ve read elsewhere that the animation cels kept sticking to the backgrounds because of the use of oil paints. If so, the accelerated production schedule is even more remarkable.

    • Surprised they got it done at all given the circumstances.

      Also interesting to point out how this Blue Ribbon re-release also forgoes the tradition WB had at the time of removing the titles/credits of the cartoons and simply letting it play as-is (which would be the cast after the 1940’s). Weird they would leave the credits alone this one time.

  • An interesting combination of styles. From what I’ve seen of the original “Canyon Kiddies” drawings, the Indian kids in the cartoon look very much like them, but the bear looks very “Chuck Jones.”

    I’ve noticed something similar in “Horton Hatches the Egg.” While Horton and a lot of the jungle animals look very “Seussian,” Maizie looks a lot more like a green, feminine Daffy Duck, and one of the hunters looks like Elmer Fudd with a mustache and hair-fringe.

    • No doubt they got to have some creative liberties over these I suppose.

  • I bet you feel sad to embbed from a site from this year’s Olympic host country, since Looney Tunes are being removed off of YouTube. Here is a Termite Terrace Trading Post “in Exile” board thread about this issue:

  • I’m guessing the original titles were left intact because of rights issues. That bear is -very- “Jones,” but so are the rest of the animals, with the possible exception of the donkey.

    Is that Blanc doing the non-narrative voice work? Those “Shhhhs” sound like him.

    Pictures like this make me realize just how good Stalling was.

    Re, Russian dubbing. When I was there, I was in a Chinese restaurant, and a TV was playing (loudly) a dubbed version of “Billy Bathgate.” One could hear the original English, but it was drowned out by one guy doing all the characters — male and female — in an overly-loud monotone.

    • “I’m guessing the original titles were left intact because of rights issues.”

      Wouldn’t surprise me, though I suppose had it went there, it would’ve probably said “The Mighty Hunters” with an added line stating “Based on James Swinnerton’s Canyon Kiddies” beneath. Still at least it didn’t get mangled this time around.

      “Re, Russian dubbing. When I was there, I was in a Chinese restaurant, and a TV was playing (loudly) a dubbed version of “Billy Bathgate.” One could hear the original English, but it was drowned out by one guy doing all the characters — male and female — in an overly-loud monotone.”

      A lot of Eastern European dubbing is this way. The people who do the dubs are referred to as “lectors”. Why they can’t spring for a proper dub, who knows, they just sorta like it this way.

  • Reminds me of some years ago, when I was living in Phoenix. The company I was working for had a training class in a room I hadn’t been in before, and I happened to notice a landscape painting on the opposite wall from where I was sitting. Something about it struck me: “That looks like a cartoon!” So when the next break came around, i went over and looked at it. The painting (probably a printed reproduction) was of Picacho Peak, a local landmark south of Phoenix, and the stylized detail did seem to have a certain cartoonish (in a good way) quality. Then I noticed the signature — “Swinnerton” — and all became clear, as I knew that Jimmy Swinnerton had taken up landscape painting.

  • It’s a shame they didn’t try adapting the work of Swinnerton’s friend and peer George Herriman. Krazy and Ignatz would have come off a lot better in the hands of Chuck Jones or Bob Clampett than they did in those wretched Columbia cartoons.

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