Random semiconscious musings

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Mighty Hunters

Comic art and animation go hand in hand for many reasons. It's no coincidence that many people who appreciate animation also appreciate comic books, and for just cause.

In the early days both were a form of entertainment and artistic expression. They were meant to entertain and provide a humourous viewpoint on the world around us. Many times when a newspaper strip was interpreted into a cartoon, it was to experiment with the possibilities of bringing static drawings alive, and to gather audiences into the wonderful world of animation going one step further as to present the characters as walking, talking, moving creations. There have been some very successful crossovers, to mention a few:

  • MGM's "Captain and the Kids" cartoon series from the Newspaper strip, "The Katzenjammer Kids"

  • O. Soglow's "The Little King" strip in the Van Beuren and Max Fleischer properties

  • Popeye, as interpreted by Max Fleischer and then the later Paramount/Famous Studios

Even though nowadays animation has become not much more than a marketing tool, we still see crossovers from comic books and strips into the movie world.

However, one attempt I would like to focus on today involves the very well done cartoon by Warner Brothers Studios called "MIghty Hunters", based on James Swinnerton's early newspaper / magazine strip panel called "Canyon Kiddies".

Although by today's standards, panel art like this seems magnificently old-fashioned considering we have comic books which are much more dynamic, showing stories that are way more extreme... but imagine the mindset of readers in the 20s and 30s who found simple humour refreshing. This strip does have a certain innocent charm to it, when you look at it.

In 1940 Chuck Jones was experimenting with the already-established and highly successful "Disneyesque" method of creating animated cartoons which usually examined the world through the eyes of either children, or the 'miniature' entity. One of the best examples was his adaptation of this strip into an animated cartoon.

It's hard to deny that he did capture most of the same essence and light humour from the original newspaper strip. Sometimes still-life works translated to moving pictures go horribly astray... but not this time. References to the main characters from the strip are all there- the happy pup, Hiz-Ti the main little boy, Kiang the mule, and the ever-burdening responsibility of watching the baby.

It's interesting to note that all the backgrounds in this cartoon were created in oil paints so as to attempt to recreate the original flavour of the "Canyon Kiddies" soft and subtle artwork- and I must agree it worked. Although there's smatterings of cheesy cartoon humour interjected, like the chipmunk bit near the center of the film, and the bare-butt shot near the end, the production as an entirety still works.

Even if falling anvils, exploding bombs, and gunshots to the head are totally your preference, you've got to admit that aside from the slow-moving pace of this cartoon, there's loads of appeal and a certain simplistic humour that reaches out much in the same manner as the original newspaper strip would have done nearly 70 years ago.

Watch it with an open mind.... and enjoy.


  • Great post!
    And what a good copy of the cartoons...with original credits too.
    I have to confess that I still have not watched all the Chuck Jones' early Disneyesque shorts because I can't stand the slow timing in the ones I've seen (like "Good Night Elmer").

    By Blogger Duck Dodgers, at 7:53 AM  

  • Visually, Jones cartoons from 1940 come the closest Warners ever did to matching the lush (and costly) look of the Disney shorts. The problem was Chuck was basically falling into the same trap as Harman and Ising over at MGM -- they were fighting a battle Disney pretty much had won by 1934, at the same time as theater audiences were favoring the type of cartoons like Avery's that required less intricacy and more gags and speed that what Walt had made the standard in the 1930s.

    That's probably why there were no sequels to "Canyon Kiddies" even though it's the most successful of Jones' early 'cute' cartoons in putting over a story in the Disney vein without boring the audience to death. And Swinnerton's background are pretty impressive, expecially if you get to see the short on a big screen (and the same holds true with Johnny Johnson's backgrounds for Avery from 1940-41).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:02 PM  

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