Hey guys, sorry for the missed update. Still up to my furry little armpits in other writing at the moment so I’m afraid the Snow White review is gonna have to be pushed back until next Thursday. By recompense, here is the next of the WW2 propaganda short reviews. Enjoy!
Studio: Warner Bros
Country of Origin: United States
First Screened: August 1, 1942
As I mentioned in my last series of short reviews, you can break down the history of the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies shorts into four eras roughly corresponding to the nineteen thirties, forties, fifties and sixties. Call them the Poor Man’s Disney, Wiseass Disney, Apex and Nadir eras, respectively. WW2 broke out in the middle of the Wiseass Disney era, where the studio had successfully reinvented itself as the sarcastic, irreverent joker to those squares in Burbank with their high falutin’ ideals of animation being art. While Disney were getting Deems Taylor to introduce abstract animation to the strains of Bach, Warner Bros were slouched in the corner smokin’ ceegars and yellin’ “Ah, yer muddah wears lederhosen!”. The Warner Bros shorts of this era are acclaimed by many fans as the greatest of the series but, with respect, those fans are liars and fools and once grown, their children shall change their names out of shame.
Okay, that’s harsh. There are many fantastic cartoons from this era but, honestly, the shorts from the fifties (including but not limited to What’s Opera Doc, One Froggy Evening and the Hunter Trilogy) leave them in the dirt.
The shorts of the forties had a lot going for them, namely some of the finest animators, directors and voice talent to ever work in the medium, but compared to the later fifties shorts they’re sorely lacking in one thing.
To be blunt, there’s a nastiness to a lot of the Warner Bros shorts of this era, and not just because of the racism (although, jeez louise, it’s like they thought there was an Olympics for racism and they had their heart set on winning gold for their country). Propaganda is dirty business, but some cartoon studios came out a lot cleaner than others, if you catch my drift.
Of all the major American cartoon studios, Warners seemed to succumb to their worst instincts the easiest. Disney, Fleischer et al certainly produced cartoons in this era that make for uncomfortable viewing but Warner’s took it to another level. For a good example, let’s take a look at the Ducktators.
The cartoon is a retelling of the rise of fascism in Europe as a farmyard allegory with farm animals standing in for all the major historical figures heeeeeey wait just a damn minute here!
Two ducks nervously watch as their mysterious black egg starts to crack, releasing…Duck Hitler!
DH hatches from a black egg, buddies up with Goose Mussolini and Duck Tojo and they take over the farm before getting the snot beaten out of them by the dove of peace who represents the United States (oh mercy).
Is it funny? ‘Sok, I guess. Mel Blanc was physically incapable of doing bad voicework and he’s in fine form here. Some of the gags land and land hard but others are just weird. Like the moment where the black duck says “I’m from South Germany, boy!” but Blanc is clearly doing his Senator Claghorn impression (which would become, a few years later, his Foghorn Leghorn voice). So…he’s black because he’s from the South which makes him sound like a…white…Southerner…the hell?
But it’s when the Japanese duck shows up that things go from “uncomfortable” to “what the fuck, Warners?”. This cartoon was directed by Norm McDonald who also directed the notorious Bugs Bunny short Tokio Jokio so my expectations were crawling on the ground all serpentine going in. But, holy shit. I mean, I was expecting the buck teeth, thick glasses and the Engrish and all that. It’s the bit where the Japanese Duck flashes an “I am Chinese” badge and gets beaten up anyway that I find truly awful. In case you didn’t know, violence against Japanese Americans went through the roof after Pearl Harbour and Chinese Americans were often accidentally targeted. Many took to wearing “I am Chinese” badges to avoid catching a beating. So what the cartoon is basically saying is “Anyone who says he’s Chinese is probably just a sneaky Jap trying to pull the wool over yer eyes! Sock him good, fellahs!”
All in all, while there’s some funny gags here and there, it’s at once too glib about the horrors of Nazism and too repellently racist in its own way to be worth recommending.
How’s the animation?: I’m honestly not a huge fan of the more rubbery style of the Looney Tunes of this era but it’s certainly not bad.
Art or Propaganda?: Propaganda.
How does this rate on the Jingo-Meter?: Honestly, more “anti-Japanese” than “pro-American” but let’s say 3 Apple Pies served in a Baseball Glove out of 5.
What’s going on with the War?: In August 1942 the British launch Operation Pedastal to bring desperately needed supplies to Malta, in India Gandhi’s INC Party Headquarters is raided and the party is subsequently accused of collusion with the Japanese, Clark Gable enlists in the US Army as a private and future President Dwight Eisenhower is placed in command of Operation Torch.
Dude, is this racist?: Dude, this is so racist it’s actually dangerous.
Should I buy bonds? Let me spell it out for you: BUY BONDS.