waltkelly-short waltkelly-short
ComicsShortsWard Kimball

Rediscovering Walt Kelly’s Lost “Pogo” Short

If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

Walt Kelly had had a regrettable experience making The Pogo Special Birthday Special (1969) with Chuck Jones.

“How did you ever okay Chuck’s Pogo story?,” Ward Kimball asked Walt Kelly shortly after the special aired on TV. “I didn’t, for Godsake!,” Kelly cried out. “The son of a bitch changed it after our last meeting. That’s not the way I wrote it. He took all the sharpness out of it and put in that sweet, saccharine stuff that Chuck Jones always thinks is Disney, but isn’t.” Kimball, who was dining with Kelly at the Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood, pressed further. “Who okayed giving the little skunk girl a humanized face?” he asked. Kelly was so angry he couldn’t answer. His face turned red, and he bellowed to the waiter, “Bring me another bourbon!” In Kimball’s words, Kelly wanted “to kill—if not sue—Chuck.”

Shortly after that debacle, Walt Kelly took matters into his own hands and decided to personally animate his popular Pogo characters. With the help of his wife Selby Daley, he planned on creating a fully-animated half-hour special for television, with the characters expressing a strong stance on taking care of the environment. But due to his ill-health, he was able to complete only thirteen minutes of We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us, which you see below.

The finished portions are absolutely charming and beautifully crafted. Much like his character P.T. Bridgeport, Kelly is a real showman here. Although he hadn’t animated since Dumbo thirty years prior, his animation skills are still top-notch. While the animation can be a bit choppy at times (mostly keys and some breakdowns with no in-betweens), his drawings are solid and appealing with some real flourishes of fluid animation throughout.

The color, though muddy in the existing prints, also appears to be as vibrant as his Sunday pages, and the backgrounds are as intricately detailed as his splash panels, if not more so. And the voices, humorously performed by Kelly himself, fit the tone and mood of his characters.

Besides Winsor McCay, I can’t think of any other mainstream comic artist who animated their comics to such a painstaking degree. While many comic strips have been adapted for film and television before and since, none of them have met or surpassed the charm and quality of the original artist’s work. Here, the animator and the creator is one and the same, and the drawings are pure, unfiltered and straight from the artist’s hand.

  • Nick

    Beautiful. Intersting anecdote too.

  • Ryan

    just pure magic here…

  • Fooksie

    I love POGO, but can’t stand the Chuck Jones version. This was an amazing find, thanks so much for sharing.

  • Doug

    This is wonderful. It’s interesting to me how the use of only three colors, rather than limiting the effectiveness of this cartoon, actually enhances it. I don’t know whether that was intended, but it sure works.

  • This certainly was quite an interesting find surely. Aside from the quirks with the animation for what it is, it comes off as quite a unique and original experience all it’s own. It certainly could had worked as an educational film shown in schools for years if there had been backing from appropriate environmental organizations.

    • Chris, we had a 16mm print of this at the studio during I Go Pogo in 1979/1980…it was astonishing to watch, the colors were vivid and Kelly’s art …it was inspiring to us. I never thought I’d see it again…but didn’t the Kelly family release this a few years ago on DVD or did i dream that? Also, people watching have to remember that this is not anywhere near a finished work, and shouldn’t be judged as such.

  • Al Sirois

    This was a real treat! (All the more so because today happens to be my birthday.) I had not heard of this (sadly unfinished) project. I believe it would have benefited from a little more commercial appeal, though. The opening beats are too drawn-out (no pun intended!) and really nothing of consequence happens until we get to the pigs. A musical number or two would have helped — Kelly was such a good poet of doggerel that I’m sure it would have been easy for him to come up with a couple of snappy tunes to help move things along. They would have served to introduce the characters, as well. Just my two cents…

  • Tom Minton

    The situation grew tense during the production of that Chuck Jones “Pogo” special. At one point, Jones and Kelly weren’t speaking directly to each other, using animator Ben Washam as their go-between, a role Benny did not care for in the least, respecting both artists as he did. Ben told me in 1978 that one day Chuck showed him a very strong drawing he had just completed of one of Kelly’s characters and proudly remarked “Who does Walt Kelly think he is?” Benny said nothing, trying to remain above the fray. Chuck sometimes couldn’t help himself when it came to re-writing other peoples’ material. He’d also done it with Norton Juster’s script for “The Phantom Tollboth,” among other things.

    • No doubt that period in the late 60’s was very apparent in the works he adapted surely (I’m sure the same could be said for Frank Tashlin’s The Bear That Wasn’t or even Dr. Seuss’ specials).

  • Jeff Merghart

    Great story with Ward and Beautiful work by Walt Kelly! Inspiring and humbling!

  • I first saw this in the 1970s, not too long after it was produced, both at Mort Walker’s cartoon museum and at a Boston comics convention attended by Selby Kelly. I remember Selby discussing how Walt chose to do the whole thing in colored pencils, which gives it an interesting look.

  • Gerard de Souza

    The animation is amazing.

    Remember the cost was daunting back then and to do it independently definitely a labour of love.

    What else is amazing, if I understand correctly, Walt Kelly would not have animated for about 30 years at this point, leaving Disney in 1941 to work for Western Publishing. He still had his chops!

    • Nicholas John Pozega

      The secret was being able to draw really well and doing it on a daily basis, and his cartooning job allowed for such a workload to keep his skills honed. The better you can draw, the better an animator you can be, and I’ve learned this myself from taking time to learn how to draw and THEN trying to do animation once I had some kind of tangible skill. Once you have drawing skills and observation down, it becomes much easier (relatively speaking; animation is always full of challenges) to learn how to animate–consider that the old animators had no animation schools to learn their trade from–they had to learn how to draw first, be it in cartooning or in life drawing classes, and because they already had those hard nuts and bolts down by the time they landed a job in the animation business, it allowed them to learn how to animate on the job.

  • Gerard de Souza

    BTW, I do like Chuck Jones’ direction on the Pogo SPecial Birthday Special and I wouldn’t have known Walt Kelly would have had a problem with it without reading it. While the animation and illustration are lovely in this, and no one can argue it is Kelly’s pure vision, I do find the timing as laid back as life on the swamp.

    • Gerard de Souza

      Okay…maybe Pogo’s stripeless shirt..but that’s my biggest quibble about the Jones special.

  • Robert Schaad

    That is beautiful. 1st time seeing this.

  • Joseph Nebus

    I’d thought it was a shame that Walt Kelly didn’t team up with Jay Ward to animate Pogo. It seems to me Ward and Kelly had compatible tastes for the vaudevillian wordplay and loopily structured plots, so it feels like — details of stuff like personality to the side — they would have been working with similar visions about what the result ought to be.

    • Natalie Belton

      I would have watched that!

  • Love this film. Have a really decent 16mm print of it and have shown it in animation festivals around the south… Always to stunned amazement and oodles of applause. (Except for the one time I showed it to an animation class at The Art Institute and 75% of the class was texting the whole time…)

  • Gerard de Souza

    “Who okayed giving the little skunk girl a humanized face?”
    Remember, those are Kimball’s words. I’m looking at the special and looking at a drawing Miss Mlle. Hepzibah from the strip and she’s pretty much on-model and very appealing in the special especially during the sequence interacting with Porkypine.
    If this is how Kelly felt about the Jones special, I wonder how he would have felt about that clay animated feature. That put me to sleep.

    • Unless you have seen the 1980 Fotomat home video release of I Go Pogo, then I don’t doubt it put you to sleep. The later versions (starting with the 1982 HBO release then the Disney video) have been chopped up, rearranged and with liberal confusing narration added (to an already talky film). The original version of I Go Pogo, while not perfect, have a straightforward narrative and is taken (for the most part) right from Kelly’s strips.

      • Gerard de Souza

        Thank you. Didn’t know that.

  • Shmorky

    Years ago I had posted shot-for-shot synopses of Pogo Special Birthday Special and I Go Pogo on the Something Awful forums. It was fun and bittersweet. We had a great time laughing at the awkwardness of it all. We also had fun laughing at the obviously overdubbed censoring of the word “bastards” in I Go Pogo. The only good thing about the Birthday Special was having Chuck Jones and Kelly provide their own voices.
    Of course I’m not upset that these other films exist at all. They’re weird and fascinating… and it makes Kelly’s personal adaptation all the more splendid by comparison.

    • During and following filming I Go Pogo, I was told several times by key production staff that Jimmy Breslin had ad-libbed the “another day that I fooled those silly bastards” line during his recording session (although it is in my script, curiously)…and while it’s bleeped out in the 1982 HBO version (with three bicycle horn beeps), the Disney 1984 homevid release is the one with the word “bozos” (voiced by ?, not Breslin) covering the word “bastards”. Again, if you haven’t seen the original 1980 Fotomat homevid version, you haven’t seen anything even approximating the original film. I’d love to see your shot for shot synopsis…is it still online or available via archive.org’s wayback machine?

  • I see those herons flying thru in the opening and wonder if Kelly had anything to do with the cancelled “Claire de Lune” segment of Fantasia.

  • That was BEAUTIFUL. Too mushy and slow in the timing, but just BEAUTIFUL. Wow.

  • Funkybat

    At least Chuck was consistent!

    A lot of people over the years have complained about Chuck Jones’ ego when it came to his later works, and his regard for same. I don’t have much problem with Chuck patting himself on the back or going off on self-indulgent tangents when it was *his own* work. But to hear about the way he acted during these “collaborative” efforts definitely is inexcusable. Just because you are a genius doesn’t mean you can do anything you like without consultation to your peers’ work (many of whom were geniuses as well.) Just goes to show no one’s perfect, even if they are incredible in a dozen different ways.

  • Larry Lauria

    In 1978, I worked briefly on the stop motion version of I GO POGO at a production company in Northern Virginia. The effort was spearheaded by Kelly’s wife. In September, I dropped everything and traveled out to L.A. to assist Chuck Jones in a class he was teaching at Art Center College of Design. Half way through the class, Chuck had to leave to direct Raggedy Ann and Andy’s Christmas Caper. That was my first teaching. P.S. I also did a crowd voice – a kind of a Fozzi Bear yelling YES! YES! YES! and NO! NO! NO! (to Gloopstick)

  • Mark Walton

    What a treat! It would be interesting (or perhaps frustrating) to hear exactly what Walt would have done differently on the birthday special, although, as I recall, the version of Mme Hepzibah was not that much different than the fairly humanized version Walt was doing at the time (though he started out with a much more cartoony, less anthropomorphized version years previous). But it’s been many years since I’ve seen it – my memory could be faulty.

  • The half hour version has survived in Leica reel form. It has muddier sound but is far more powerful than the edited, twelve minute version. I and Greg Ford restored the work picture for Selby Kelly back in the nineties, and it was available for a brief while on videotape. Sadly, it is no longer available.