Tin Pan Alley Cats is a 1943 animated short subject, directed by Bob Clampett for Leon Schlesinger Productions as part of Warner Bros.' Merrie Melodies series. A follow-up to Clampett's successful Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, released earlier in 1943, Tin Pan Alley Cats focuses upon contemporary themes of African-American culture, jazz music, and World War II, and features a caricature of jazz musician Fats Waller as an anthropomorphic cat. The short's centerpiece is a fantasy sequence derived from Clampett's black and white Looney Tunes short Porky in Wackyland (1938).
Like Coal Black, Tin Pan Alley Cats focuses heavily on stereotypical gags, character designs, and situations involving African-Americans. As such, the film and other Warner Bros. cartoons with similar themes have been withheld from television distribution since 1968, and are collectively known as the Censored Eleven.
The cartoon opens with a cat who resembles a Fats Waller caricature going out for a night on the town. He is about to go into a club when a street preacher warns him that he will be tempted with "wine, women and song" if he goes in. This, however, only excites the cat ("Wine women an' song? What's de motor wid dat?") who immediately runs in. At first, he enjoys the club, but he becomes so immersed in the music that he is carried "out-of-this-world" to a manic fantasy realm filled with surreal imagery (including caricatures of Adolf Hitler, Hideki Tojo and Joseph Stalin). This world frightens him so much that, when he wakes up, he gives up his partying ways and joins the religious music group singing outside, much to their surprise.
In part because of budget limitations and wartime shortages, several sequences borrow animation and audio recordings from earlier Schlesinger cartoons. From Friz Freleng's 1937 "products come to life" Merrie Melodies short, September In The Rain, the recorded performance of "Nagasaki" is re-used completely intact, and the "Fats Waller" cat, "Louis Armstrong" trumpeter, jitterbugging woman and the trio of singing bartenders are re-purposed for this cartoon. Gags from the "out-of-this-world" sequence feature color-redrawn versions of characters and visuals (along with re-recorded audio segments) from Clampett's Porky in Wackyland.
Segments specifically created for the nightmare sequence (such as the "Rubber (musical) Band" made up of rubber bands) would resurface in Friz Freleng's 1949 color remake of Porky In Wackyland, Dough for the Do-Do.
This short premiered 5 months before the death of Fats Waller in December 1943.
Following the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, United Artists withheld Tin Pan Alley Cats, along with the rest of the "Censored Eleven", from American television in 1968. Turner Entertainment (today owned by Time Warner) acquired the rights to these cartoons in 1986, and has continued to withhold it from release.
Of the cartoons included in the Censored Eleven, animation historians and film scholars are quickest to defend the two directed by Bob Clampett: Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs and Tin Pan Alley Cats. The former, a jazz-based parody of Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, is frequently included on lists of the greatest cartoons ever made, while the latter is a hot jazz re-interpretation of Clampett's now-classic 1938 short Porky in Wackyland. Author Michelle Klein-Hass wrote the following:
Bootleg copies have surfaced on videotape and DVD, and are frequently added to (and - due to copyright infringement - subsequently removed from) sites such as YouTube and Google Video. Warner Home Video has issued restored clips of the film as a part of a supplementary documentary on Bob Clampett on disc three of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2 DVD collector's set. In October 2010, it was announced that a complete version will be officially released, along with the rest of the "Censored 11", on DVD through the Warner Archives collection.