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A Tribute to Tom Hatten: Soda Pop Trees, Talking Cats and Murderous Mermaids

When I was six, Saturday mornings were a ritual set in stone.  Like all kids of my era, weekends were a carefully crafted schedule, a perfect balance of channel flipping, sugary sweets, the occasional sibling warfare and animation.

At 6:00 am, Bugs and the gang would begin the marathon with Acme-based antics, outdated celebrity impressions and World War II jokes that no child understood.

By 7:00, the Smurfs held the spotlight for the next hour. The following two to three hours were a mixed bag of Filmation shows which included Justice League heroes, overweight junkyard-dwelling urban teens, complicated warrior heroes from dystopian futures or shows based on popular video games and/or movies.

The morning ended after “CBS’ Storybreak,” hoping for either Miss Switch or Bunnicula.

Saturdays were what you looked forward to all week. Sundays were a different issue.

Golf and televised prayer could do little to hold a candle to the toon orgy that occurred the day before. But one man tried his darndest to entertain and shape young minds.

If you lived in the West Coast, than Tom Hatten and his “KTLA Family Film Festival” defined your Sunday mornings.

“FFF” broadcasted from a local station where of the majority audience were housecats left alone with the TV on so they wouldn’t get lonely. Host Hatten was a friendly chap that wore a big smile and seemed to wage an unspoken war against Mr. Rogers in the battlefield of casual knitwear. Every Sunday, he offered family-friendly fare meant for clans to watch together after church, probably while holding hands.

Best known for his occasional charcoal drawings of Popeye, Hatten would offer old black-and-white cartoons from yesteryear, short films of the Three Stooges and The Little Rascals, as well as the occasional Marx Brother full feature film. Every now and then you would get a somewhat modern pic such as Savannah Smiles.

Between the films, thousands of children would watch in awe as Cal Worthington and his “dog Spot” would do anything to sell you a car. (Sidenote: Originally I had a joke here about “pussy cow” song, but my boyfriend is in the camp that the it was clearly “Go see Cal.” I’m not going to lie, this became a heated argument. Apparently, there is a large divide between L.A.’s Gen X on the Pussy Cow/Go See Cal issue. To be continued at another time…)

The local youth would sit mesmerized by his jovial attitude, his aptitude for sketching animated characters and his choice in old movies.

Also, there was nothing else on.

Hatten’s film library was eclectic at best. Wanting to offer the best in family entertainment and paying for the best in family entertainment are two different beasts. So alas, Hatten didn’t really have the budget for always showing fantastic, or even really good, films.

Sometimes they were downright bizarre, if not completely traumatizing.

A few of the best selections from the Family Film Festival include:

●    The Adventure of Pippi Longstocking

Pippi was a magical girl with a shock of red hair, alway worn in pigtails that stuck straight out. She also had access to unlimited treasure, had super strength, had a monkey AND a horse, and her mouth never matched her words because the entire movie was badly dubbed from Swedish.

Many of her plans to get out of a fix involved her best buddies Tommy and Annika taking off all of their clothing. Don’t believe me? Watch it again. (“Gosh, we don’t have any sails for our boat. Tommy, Annika takes off your clothes so we can make sails”).

Despite her interest in public nudity, Pippi was a bad-ass. She fought pirates, lived alone and had a soda pop tree. She inspired young girls to move into their backyard playhouses and attempt to live alone, as well as generations of terrible Halloween costumes, creating an impossible task for mothers as they boldly used wire hangers, pipe cleaners and hairspray to get their kids’ hair to defy gravity.

Fun Fact: The last actress to play the ginger powerhouse turned to a life of porn. True story. That’s the power of Pippi. She inspires the deviant in all of us.

●    The Little Mermaid

This movie is why I wouldn’t see the Disney version in theaters. No singing, no beautiful underwater dance sequences or well-intentioned shellfish. Just attempted murder, torture, mutilation and death.
This 1975 Japanese version of the original story features a sad little mermaid named Marina who trades her voice AND her ability to walk so she can attempt to win over a prince with her mute stares of longing with big anime eyes. She loses out not to the sea witch in disguise, but to a dark-haired princess that can walk and talk. Bitch.

Anywho, Marina is given a final chance to save her own life, but she must kill the prince. Dagger in hand, she heads to his bedroom where she hovers over his sleeping body about to slit his throat. Unable to make the death blow, she runs out of the room and jumps into the sea, where she turned into sea foam and dies. The final scenes show her dolphin friend Fritz crying and screaming her name, searching in vain for his little deceased friend.

Seriously. Fuck this movie.

●    Pinocchio

This is the oddly-animated Italian version was released on unsuspecting kids in the ’70s. Much like the Japanese version of The Little Mermaid, The Adventures of Pinocchio was a bit of a surprise for fans of the Disney version as singing, dancing and adorable characters took a back seat to child murder, slave labor and underage drinking.

Following the original story, Pinocchio was a huge jerk face who abandoned his elderly and lonely father at every given chance. He even crushes his good-hearted cricket buddy with a hammer in the beginning of the movie

Highlights of this childhood epic include watching the hero get turned into a donkey (not just the ears), watching sadly as his best friend dies of exhaustion by his side while whispering begging for help and having his wooden legs burned off as he works two jobs to support the sick Geppetto.

I’m sure Hatten had the best intentions, just as I’m sure free or cheap movies to screen on the fifth-rated network were hard to come by. But I’m also sure he never actually watched these movies.

●    Gay Pur-ee

Nothing really traumatizing here except for the sheer amount of times it was shown. Just a little arranged marriage for a feline, nothing big. Cat from the country wants to become a lady and runs off to Paris, leaving her beau behind. Hijinks ensue. Kind of a Pygmalion-meets-The Aristocats.

For years, I thought this was The Aristocats. I blame society.

●    Star Blazers

Hi, kids. Welcome to the world of anime. Here is your starter kit. If you still like it after several years and you stay with it, you’ll get a waifu of your very own.


All in all, Tom Hatten is a wonderful man who just wanted to bring joy to Southern California families on Sunday mornings with a limited budget and an armful of strange movies. Sometimes his selections were a little off-target, but it planted the seed for a fantastic crop of future weirdos.

His lasting effect on the local Gen X population is still tangible to this day. At dinner parties or making small banter at your kids’ soccer games, one life-long resident can always identify the other by the amount of Little Rascals they absorbed on Tom’s Sunday morning watch.

Hatten and his “Family Film Festival” are now a marker for identifying old-school Los Angeles residents, those who remember when the Beverly Center were pony rides and Melrose was a Russian neighborhood.

Hatten is a permanent part of many childhoods, a part of a shared culture that bonds locals as they reminisce through fond memories of being an indoor kid with a no sports skills.

God bless you, Tom Hatten.

Also, it’s “pussy cow.” Deal with it.

Final sidenote: For fans of the great Hatten, you can check out his acting chops in Spies Like Us,  as the military baddie opposite Dan Akroyd and Chevy Chase.



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