If there was ever a cartoon studio that had more disjointed, half-baked shorts than Screen Gems, aka Columbia, then I’ve never heard of it.
Screen Gems were usually anything but. The studio went from the remnants of the Charles Mintz studio, to attempts at artsy-fartsiness, to second-rate versions of Warners and Tex Avery cartoons, to closure, all within about 10 years. A lot of the people who worked there were talented, some of the animation was pretty good, but Columbia came up with a frightening number of cartoons are mouth-gapingly bizarre.
‘Willoughby’s Magic Hat’ (1943) is one of them. It features gobs of limited animation that would have made the accountants at Filmation happy, UPA-style background art (pre-UPA) designed to draw attention to itself, a plot that somehow combines a robot Frankenstein with a Pearl White melodrama and John Ployardt’s too-overly-affected narration. Oh, and a guy with the name of a bird. It’s not a happy mix. But for you fans of stylised backgrounds, here are a few, designed by Zack Schwartz, which are probably the only reason anyone talks about this cartoon at all.