ANDY PANDAOriginal Medium: Theatrical animation
Released by: Universal (Walter Lantz)
First Appeared: 1939
Creator: Walter Lantz
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For sheer, cuddly cuteness, nothing beats a panda. Anyway, that's how the American public saw it in the late 1930s, when the odd-looking bears started, amid great publicity, to appear in U.S. zoos. The Walter Lantz cartoon studio was
casting about for a new star to replace Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who had pretty much outworn his welcome. After trying skunks, mice and monkeys, Lantz decided to give a panda a shot. On Sept. 9, 1939, the studio released the appropriately-titled Life Begins for Andy Panda (a play on an Andy Hardy film title).
Andy was a baby bear in this cartoon, and remained a juvenile for the next three years. During that period, he was as mischievous as Donald Duck's nephews and adorable as Sugar & Spike. The moviegoing audience loved him.
But when, in 1942, a decision was made to grow him up, he turned into rather a bland, dull character, much like Mickey Mouse had done when, having evolved into Disney's corporate symbol, he'd become too dignified for the barnyard humor of his early years.
Andy Panda cartoons continued to be made, however, and some of them were quite good. Three, in fact — Fish Fry (1944, directed by Shamus Culhane), The Poet and the Peasant (1946, Dick Lundy) and Musical Moments from Chopin (1947, also by Lundy) were nominated for the Academy Award. (However, neither those nor any other Lantz cartoon ever actually won an Oscar.) Andy's voice was provided by, among others, Berniece Hansen (Sniffles the Mouse) and Walter Tetley (Sherman of Peabody's Improbable History).
A 1943 cartoon, Andy Panda's Victory Garden, introduced Charlie Chicken. In Charlie only other screen appearance, Meatless Tuesday, Charlie was seen by Andy as a potential meal; but later, the two became pals — especially in comic books, where they were partners in adventure.
As the 1940s drew to a close, so did Andy Panda's days as a cartoon star. The last film he appeared in was Scrappy Birthday (1949). Dick Lundy, who had directed most of Andy's films (including that one), moved to MGM, where he mostly worked on the equally easygoing Barney Bear, and Andy was retired as a character.
Andy had longer-lasting success in comic books. His first appearance in that medium was in the back pages of Crackajack Funnies in 1941. A year later, he moved to The Funnies, which had formerly starred various newspaper strip characters, including Mutt & Jeff and Alley Oop. A few months after that, the title was changed to New Funnies, and the Lantz characters started taking over. It continued under that name until 1962, and Andy Panda was in every issue.
During Andy's Crackajack Funnies days, he operated in a strangely-designed mountain setting called Pandamonia, along with his pal, Winchester (a tortoise), and his girlfriend, Miranda Panda (who didn't show up in animated form until 1949). When he moved to The Funnies, he also moved to the flatlands and went into show business as one of the few talking animals in a mostly human environment. One story stands out from that early run — in New Funnies #76, he was drawn by Carl Barks, who went on to create Uncle Scrooge.
(By the way, that oddball mountain setting is duplicated in the Swedish comic book Bamse, about a very Andy-like cuddly bear character, created by Rune Andreasson (who also did Pellefant, about a living toy elephant). Bamse's friends include Skalman, a near-clone of Winchester. Bamse is the most popular comic book in Sweden today.)
In 1943, Andy settled in Lantzville, a more standard funny-animal setting, and that's when he started teaming up with Charlie Chicken. It was also in 1943 that Andy started appearing as the title character of occasional issues of Dell's Four Color Comics. His comic went into regular publication in '52, and continued for ten years. Between 1973 and '78, some of the comic books were reprinted by Gold Key Comics. By the time that run ended, he'd been gone from cartoons for over a quarter of a century.
Nowadays, Andy Panda comic books are available only as back issues, and the cartoons are only occasionally seen on TV, as reruns and fillers. His main claim to fame is that it was a 1940 Andy Panda cartoon, Knock Knock, that introduced Woody Woodpecker.