While Barbera had at least one side project while at MGM—he and Harvey Eisenberg worked on comic books in the late ‘40s—Hanna did something outside the studio as well. He worked on a Christmas film-strip for a religious company.
Cathedral Films was set up in Los Angeles in 1938 by the Rev. James K. Friedrich, creating religious films of varying lengths. It was also in the film-strip business, with drawings on individual frames rolled through a projector. The company sold Christian-based stories on strips accompanied by a record with narration and other sounds. Stan Freberg even supplied animal voices for a series of Cathedral film-strips in 1955. These films and film-strips were designed for use by churches and Sunday schools, though the company sold its library of around 40 films to television in 1952.
Hanna was employed on only one of the strips that I can discover, a Christmas story called “Christopher Mouse.” Assisting him with the drawings was MGM layout artist Gene Hazelton, who later was in charge of the Yogi Bear and Flintstones comic strips which Hanna-Barbera had syndicated in newspapers.
The strip with 75 frames by Hazelton was apparently copyrighted in 1950 but several newspapers from 1949 reported churches showing it. The soundtrack, such as it was, ran 14 minutes and was available on two 78s or one 33 1/3 album. The film was printed on Eastman stock so it would likely have turned beet red over time. One catalogue on the internet sums up Hanna’s storyline:
CHRISTOPHER MOUSE is the story of a little mouse who goes with his grandfather to a nearby town where a Carnival was being held. He enjoys everything in the Carnival a ride on a merry-go-round, on the train, etc. In fact, he and his grandfather enjoy themselves so much they forget it is getting late and when they start to look for a place to sleep they can find none. Eventually the grandfather remembers Farmer Brown's barn and they trudge out to the barn and get ready to go to sleep in the hay loft. Christopher doesn't like the rough straw as it irritates him when he lies on it. His grandfather, seeing his plight, begins to tell him the story of a little mouse many, many years ago who used to live in the hay loft of a barn and had a wonderful straw bed. One night some strangers came to the barn, a little baby was born, and there was no clean straw on the ground. The mouse's mother gathered all the straw she could to keep the ground dry and in order to get enough the little mouse had to give his own bed of straw. Then a little baby was born who was the Christ Child. The Wise Men came from the East to see the babe and after the telling of the story to Christopher, he went sound to sleep without another murmur.How Hanna hooked up with Cathedral is a little mystery. It could have been through his reputation winning Oscars with Tom and Jerry. There was a tenuous connection with MGM; in 1940, Cathedral Films moved into the old Metro building at 6260 Romaine Street.