Are you pining for a little Western action now that Westworld has ended? Do you need a little more rootin’ and tootin’ in your media life? Animation has a long, storied history of exploring the Wild West, whether in setting, themes, or characters. I’ve compiled a list of some of the greatest cartoon cowboys in animated movies and TV.
These picks run the gamut from comic to dramatic. The Western genre is easily parodied, but it’s also a source of immense power. For every Blazing Saddles, there’s an Unforgiven, and so for every Yosemite Sam, there’s a Vigilante.
Did I miss any of your favorites? Speak up! This town is big enough for the both of us, after all.
Animaniacs – “Gold Rush/A Gift of Gold/Dot’s Quiet Time”
Original Air Date: February 16, 1994
Available on: Netflix
Animaniacs is always a great time, especially with the wonderful voice acting and musical skills of Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, and Tress MacNeille.
Episode 55 opens with a great musical number detailing (sort of) the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill and the beginning of the California Gold Rush. Three cartoon cowboys moseying on down the trail find a single gold nugget. In true cartoon fashion, hundreds of tents pop up from nowhere and start spewing out prospectors.
The villain in the episode, a big prospector named Jake, is engagingly played by veteran screen and voice actor Michael McKean. About 10 seconds after his introduction, he tosses the Warner kids off a cliff. Yakko says, “I think we’ve met our special friend for the day”, and the shenanigans begin.
“Gold Rush” has plenty of great Animaniacs fourth wall-breaking humor like this, and it easily holds up to viewing today.