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Creator / Walter Lantz

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The other Walt of the Golden Age.

"I'm just a little old cartoonist, tryin' to make a buck."

Walter Lantz (April 27, 1899 March 22, 1994) was a prominent American animator and director of cartoons during The Silent Age of Animation, The Golden Age of Animation and The Dark Age of Animation from New Rochelle, New York. His studio, operating from the dawn of the sound era in 1929 to the midst of the Dark Age in 1972, was responsible for creating characters such as Andy Panda, Chilly Willy, and most famous of all, Woody Woodpecker.

Incidentally, he and Walt Disney were great friends throughout their lives. This is likely due to both of their relationships with Universal Pictures.

His career in animation spanned over half a century, including the entirety of the Golden Age of Animation. Initially an animator for J.R. Bray's studio in the mid-1910s (producing silent animated adaptations of comic strips such as Krazy Kat and Jerry On The Job), Lantz was promoted to a director position in the mid-1920s and helmed the "Dinky Doodle" series for Bray. Lantz's eponymous studio, in which the bulk of his most well-known output was produced, was founded in 1929, primarily to continue the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series for Universal. Highly conscious of the rigid budgetary limits imposed by Universal, Lantz rapidly became notable for "cost-efficient" production in the ensuing decades, enabling his studio to be resurrected from bankruptcy and closure twice during the 1940s. Nonetheless, his revolving door of directors enabled several notable animation personnel (such as rubberhose pioneer Bill Nolan, Disney directors Dick Lundy and Jack Hannah, former Fleischer animator Shamus Culhane and, most notably, Tex Avery) to infuse reasonably-unique artistic perspectives into what would otherwise prove relatively low-budget affairs; shorts helmed by more workmanlike or conservative directors (such as Paul J. Smith in the studio's later years) tended to display the limits of Lantz's budgets far more evidently. As the TV-dominated Dark Age of Animation advanced, however, even Lantz's experience with low-budget production would prove futile in the face of his output's increased unprofitability, forcing him to finally close in 1972 (resultantly becoming the final non-Disney Golden Age animated studio to cease production). You can find more info on his cartoons, as well as a complete filmography of his work, here. An autobiography has also been published called "The Walter Lantz Story.", with a new one coming up called "Walter Lantz: Legends of Animation".

Works of Walter Lantz:

  • Dinky Doodle: A series of silent comedies in the vein of Max Fleischer's "Out of the Inkwell" series and Walt Disney's Alice Comedies, starring Lantz himself alongside the eponymous young animated boy and his rubberhose dog Weak-heart. Technically produced by J.R. Bray's animation studio, which employed Lantz as a supervising director on the series.
  • Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (1929-1943): After Oswald was taken from Disney (and, subsequently, the crew that would proceed to found the Looney Tunes series), Lantz eventually got hold of Oswald from Charles Mintz. This character, now under his third crew in two years, would promptly become Lantz's first successful star. He lasted for 143 shorts under Lantz's tenure (the vast majority produced from 1929 to 1938), making him Lantz's second most successful star. Notable as Tex Avery's first animation gig, initially as an animator and later (specifically on the shorts "Towne Hall Follies" and "The Hillbilly") as director.
  • King of Jazz (1930): The cartoon that Lantz contributed to this otherwise live-action feature was the first-ever Technicolor cartoon.
  • Pooch the Pup (1932-1933): A short lived attempt at giving Lantz an alternative series to Oswald. Lasted for 13 shorts.
  • Peterkin: A oneshot cartoon released in 1939 with a character designed by William Pogony.
  • Cartune Classics (1934-1942, 1953-1957): A series of oneshot cartoons starring misc. characters.
  • Meany, Miny and Moe (1936-1937): A 13 short series centered around a trio of monkeys that initially appeared in an Oswald short. This was one of many attempts Lantz made to find another star series in response to Oswald's then-declining popularity.
  • Boy Meets Dog (1938): A oneshot toothpaste ad (no kidding) based on the "Reg'lar Fellers" comic strip.
  • New Universal Cartoon (1938): Lasted for 16 shorts, featuring a rotating cast of one-shot and recurring characters.
  • Baby-Face Mouse
  • Snuffy Skunk
  • Doxie
  • Nertsury Rhyme: 2 theatrical shorts from 1939.
  • Lil' Eightball: A heavily stereotypical blackface character (created by former top Disney director Burt Gillett) that was one of several attempts to give Lantz a new star. Only lasted for 3 shorts in 1939.
  • Swing Symphonies (1941-1945): A series of Animated Music Videos, themed around popular swing, big band and boogie-woogie standards of the day (often performed by high-profile jazz musicians). Lasted for 14 shorts.
  • Homer Pigeon (1942-1956): A character that popped up in three shorts.
  • The Enemy Bacteria (1945): An instructional film made for the military.
  • Reddy Made Magic (1946): An educational film featuring the Alabama Power Company character Reddy Kilowatt.
  • Musical Miniatures (1946-1948): An offshoot of Swing Symphonies, centered around classical music. Lasted for six shorts. Allegedly the highest-budgeted shorts produced by the studio during its lifetime, hence their discontinuation upon the studio's re-opening in 1950.
  • Cola-Cola Ads (1948-1953): Over the course of several years, Lantz cranked out 19 ads for the classic soft drink.
  • Maw and Paw (1953-1955): Starred a stereotypical large hillbilly family (helmed by the titular matriarch and patriarch) and their uniquely-intelligent pig, Milford. Lasted for 4 shorts.
  • Chilly Willy (1953-1972): Lantz's third most well known star, lasting for 50 shorts.
  • Pepito Chickeeto (1957): A oneshot cartoon.
  • Sugarfoot (1954): A recurring character of Lantz, managed to get two theatrical cartoons to himself.
  • "Crazy Mixed-Up Pup" (1955): One-shot cartoon directed by Tex Avery
  • Foolish Fables (1953-1955): A short-lived series of one-shot cartoons, lasting for 3 shorts.
  • Hickory, Dickory and Doc (1959-1962): Lasted for 8 shorts.
  • Maggie And Sam (1955-1957): Starred the bickering couple from Avery's "Crazy Mixed-Up Pup". Lasted for 4 shorts.
  • Windy and Breezy (1957-1959): Lasted for 5 shorts.
  • Inspector Willoughby (1958-1965): Lasted for 17 shorts.
  • Take Heed, Mr. Tojo: A Wartime Cartoon that was outsourced to Lantz by Warner Bros. It was the fourth entry of the short lived ''Seaman Hook' series produced for the U.S. Navy.
  • Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein: The studio animated the opening cartoon for the film.
  • Sioux City Sue (1946): Lantz contributed a brief animated segment to this otherwise live action feature.
  • The Egg And I (1947): A promotional short made to promote Universal's 1947 feature The Egg And I. This short is currently lost.
  • The Story of Human Energy (1947): An educational film produced by Lantz for the Corn Products Refining Company.
  • Destination Moon (1950): At the request of George Pal, the films producer, Lantz (having recently re-opened his studio for the second time) contributed a brief animated segment starring the newly redesigned Woody Woodpecker, explaining rocket propulsion to the audience.
  • Jungle Medics (1960): This short was made as a possible pilot for a TV series, although it did get a theatrical release.
  • Space Mouse (1960): This short was the first animated appearance of a comic who was created for Lantz's comic books. Possible pilot for a TV series.
  • The Beary Family (1962-1972): A loose pastiche of contemporary family sitcoms, starring a nuclear family of bears led by the archetypical Bumbling Dad Charlie Beary. Lasted for 28 shorts.

Tropes used in his works:

  • Animated Anthology: Lantz's long lasting hit program The Woody Woodpecker Show.
  • Animation Bump: Given the revolving-door nature of Lantz's staff, numerous highly-skilled animators invariably found themselves contributing to the studio's shorts:
    • La Verne Harding: Among the earliest female animators, Harding, formerly an artist on the Little Lulu-reminiscent newspaper comic Cynical Susie, was hired in 1934 and rapidly became a headlining animator. Her scenes (particularly in Lantz's early 1940s and 1950s output) typically feature conspicuously more solid and three-dimensional character construction and more accurate lip-syncing than surrounding scenes - Woody Woodpecker donning a pilot's jacket in the short Ace in the Hole is a notable example.
    • Emery Hawkins: Notable for his wanderlust (through which he gained employment at, and thus contributed to shorts from, every California-based animation studio of the golden age), Hawkins joined Lantz in 1943 and, following a brief (and unsuccessful) tenure as a director, settled into a prominent animating position (until his departure in 1946). His scenes - most notably the iconic animated opening employed on every Woody Woodpecker short from 1944 to 1949 - typically entail characters rapidly shifting through a myriad of differing poses while maintaining impressive fluidity and three-dimensional construction.
    • Pat Matthews: A former inbetweener at Disney (prior to the studio's infamous 1941 strike), Matthews likewise joined Lantz in 1943 and remained a notable animator until the studio's (temporary) closure in 1948. His scenes are rapidly-identifiable owing to their unorthodox tendency to "stretch" or "slide" characters between frames, imbuing his work (see the camel's dance routine from Abou Ben Boogie or the pink elephant tightrope dance from 1947's The Bandmaster) with a distinctly spastic, rubbery fluidity.
    • Fred Moore: A notable longtime Disney alumnus immortalized for pioneering the "squash-and-stretch" principle integral to western animation hereafter, Moore, dismissed from his most notable workplace in 1946 due to mounting alcoholism, was soon hired at Lantz by its primary director Dick Lundy, a co-worker of Moore at Disney throughout the 1930s. While only employed at Lantz for a comparatively brief period (owing to the studio's temporary closure in 1948, following which Moore returned to Disney until his death in 1952), Moore's scenes - among them Woody's response to receiving the audition letter in The Mad Hatter and Andy and Miranda's opening exchange in Scrappy Birthday - are nonetheless highly recognizable for their elegantly-appealing posing and character designs. Moore similarly redesigned the studio's principle characters Woody Woodpecker and Andy Panda during this period, hence their more expressive and Disney-esque appearance within shorts such as Wet Blanket Policy and Dog Tax Dodgers (with Andy in particular increasingly resembling an Expy of Mickey Mouse). Moore's longtime protégé Ken O'Brien (an accomplished animator at Disney in his own right) joined Lantz contemporaneously with Moore and contributed work of a similar fluidity (see Buzz Buzzard's lustful reactions to Woody crossdressing in Drooler's Delight), further boosting the visual quality of Lantz's late-40s output.
    • Ed Love: A notable animator at both Disney and, more famously, MGM's animation division under Tex Avery, Love was likewise hired by Lundy in 1947 after a miscommunication left him expelled from MGM. Notable for his distinct "staggered" motion, detailed grasp of perspective (due to the rough "motion charts" his raw animation typically comprised) and extremely rapid workrate, Love became arguably the studio's most prolific animator during the late 1940s, animating over 80% of both the musical short Kiddie Koncert and the Woody Woodpecker short Drooler's Delight singlehandedly (alongside numerous - and often lengthy - sequences in other shorts of the period; the brief-but-infamous scene in which Woody proclaims "if I had a gun I'd shoot myself" is Love's handiwork).
  • Art Evolution: The studio went through a fair amount of it, and its worth noting that before the 50s, the studio never really had an established house style. Their earliest work had a very rubbery, bizarre feel to it; Lantz began working with a hyper-cute style in about 1933, while the studio's other director, Bill Nolan kept with the original approach until his firing at the end of the following year, cementing Lantz's cutesy style as the one used by the studio. This lasted until 1938, when Lantz allowed a number of animators the chance of directing, leading the studio's cartoons in 1938-39 having a range of different styles. By the end of 1939, in part due to the success of the then newly-created Andy Panda, Alex Lovy had settled down as the main director, and their cartoons became amateurishly drawn, misguided attempts at imitating the West-Coast animation style pioneered by Disney and Looney Tunes shorts, and suffered from poorly timed animation with minimal fluidity and solidity. Shamus Culhane, upon his arrival in 1943, tried to beef up the studios art quality with Disney-esque articulation (coinciding with the hiring of former Disney artists such as Art Heinemann, Pat Matthews, Grim Natwick and Dick Lundy), with varying degrees of success, but this was impeded by indifference from many of the artists, as well as sloppy inking and inbetween work. Dick Lundy managed to bring genuine, albeit budget constrained, Disney-quality animation to the studio during his tenure, in addition to refining the designs of the studio's star characters into more appealing forms (courtesy of noteworthy Disney animator Fred Moore, who spent a brief stint at the studio during the late '40s). From the studio's re-opening in 1951 to its closure in 1972, Lantz finally converted to a stiffer and more conservative style (complete with bolder and more stylized linework) due to budget constraints.
  • Balloon-Bursting Bird: The 1970 Beary Family cartoon "The Unhandy Man" has Charlie Beary trying to install a garage door opener on his own. One of his attempts to get his garage door open involves a big balloon, which fails when a bird pops the balloon.
  • Benevolent Boss: Walter was considered by his employees to be one of the best employers to work for during the Golden Age. It helped that, unlike producers like Fred Quimby of MGM or Eddie Selzer of Warner Bros., Lantz actually liked making cartoons and had firsthand experience as an animator and director in addition to producing and even editing his own films, so he had a lot of understanding and sympathy for the artists in his studio. Animator Alex Lovy in particular praised Lantz for this in the Walter Lantz Story.
  • Bowdlerize: When Lantz brought his cartoons to TV, a lot of them went through heavy editing to appease the censors—and some, like "Abou Ben Boogie" and "Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat" were banned outright.
  • Cute Kitten: The short "Baby Kittens".
  • Keep Circulating the Tapes: The bulk of the studios nearly 600 short output is unavailable, save what has been released on the two Woody Woodpecker DVD sets, but even those only make up 90 of his cartoons (although the number goes slightly higher if you count cartoons included in the extra features like Playful Pelican)—not even 1/6th of the studios output.
  • King Kong Copy: King Klunk, the Killer Gorilla that Pooch the Pup encounters in the eponymous short, is the very first example of this trope. The short is a direct parody of King Kong (1933), which was released only half a year earlier.
  • Long Runner: Lantz's studio was the longest surviving theatrical cartoon studio, thanks in part to Lantz being accustomed to working with low budget cartoons, and thus having no problem adjusting to the rise of the Dark Age. However, the studio finally gave up the ghost in 1972, as theatrical cartoons had become completely unprofitable by that point.
  • Missing Episode: Universal claims that some of the negatives to the studios early 30's output have been lost.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Some of his shorts demonstrated this, such as "Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat", "Abou Ben Boogie" and "The Greatest Man in Siam".
  • The Pardon: One of the Inspector Willoughby shorts features a man trying to escape prison. During the last attempt, he tries to ram the gates but then Inspector Willoughby just opens them and informs him he's been pardoned. He then wants to be let back in prison.
  • Public Domain Animation: A handful of his shorts have slipped into the Public Domain, most notably the Woody Woodpecker short "Pantry Panic", as well as "Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat".
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: Lantz started using this in his Dinky Doodle shorts, used again in the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit short "Puppet Show", the ending of "100 Pygmies and Andy Panda", and used it again in the bridging segments of The Woody Woodpecker Show.
  • Rotoscoping: Blatantly used at several points in "Just a Jitterbug".
  • Stealth Pun: Later title cards in his cartoons featured Woody riding a horse, while carrying a large lance poking through the words "A Walter Lantz Production".
  • Wartime Cartoon: Lantz did several of these, most notably "The Enemy Bacteria", as well as a Warner Bros. "Seaman Hook" short that was outsourced to his studio, the short being "Take Heed, Mr. Tojo". Even his mainstream theatrical shorts had some nods to the war going on, most notably "Ration Bored".
  • What Could Have Been: Lantz originally planned to make a feature-length animated film, riding off the success of Disney's Snow White, which would have been based on Aladdin and would have starred Abbott and Costello. Unfortunately, the project never got off the ground due to the lackluster performance of the Fleischer Studios film Mr. Bug Goes to Town. Which ironically canceled plans for feature length films from the rivals such as Paul Terry and Warner Bros.