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(© 1990, 1993 Bosko Video. All rights reserved.)
Almost everyone is familiar with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd. Thanks to television, the Warner Bros. cartoons that these characters inhabit have been easily accessible for the past several decades. The same can't be said of another Warner Bros. character: Private Snafu. Created for American Armed Forces during World War II, the Snafu cartoons have languished in film vaults during the second half of the 20th Century.
Now, a new DVD release from Bosko Video and Image Entertainment packages together all the Snafu cartoons: "The Complete Uncensored Private Snafu." That amounts to a grand total of 25 Warner Bros. cartoons, plus two by UPA, and one from Harman-Ising. (In 1990, Bosko Video released these same cartoons as a two video set. The new DVD release combines both of these videos.)
Private Snafu originated in the mind of Colonel Frank Capra. In 1942, Capra was placed in charge of the Armed Forces Motion Picture Unit (with Ted "Dr. Seuss" Geisel in charge of the animation branch). He was ordered to devise a format for informational entertainment films that could be shown to all branches of the armed services. To fit this need, Capra came up with the idea for Private Snafu--with SNAFU representing a commonly-used expression in the military: "Situation Normal, All F------ Up."
Private Snafu would teach by example--bad examples, that is. In "Gripes," Private Snafu bemoans standing in lines and getting jabbed with needles. He wishes that he could run the Army. He'd show 'em a thing or two. In "The Goldbrick," Private Snafu feigns illnesses because he's lazy, and the cartoon shows how poor work habits can effect the war effort. And in "Rumors," Private Snafu carelessly starts a rumor that soon engulfs an entire military company. These cartoons and many others on this DVD were short, humorous lessons aimed at remedying common problems in the Armed Forces.
Voiced by Warner Bros. resident voice master, Mel Blanc, Private Snafu was a near cousin of other Warner Bros. veterans such as Elmer Fudd and Egghead. He usually spoke in rhyme: "If I ran this army, boy, I'm telling you, I'd make a few changes. That's just what I'd do." Snafu wasn't an evil or mischievous character. He was just a little bit lazy and dim-witted. He was also prone to wish for his troubles to disappear, in which case Technical Fairy, First Class would appear. This small, winged fairy, dressed only in socks, shorts, and hat and chomping a cigar, would grant Snafu's wishes. In "Gripes," after Snafu wishes he were in charge of the Army, soldiers soon give up battle training and begin partying 24 hours a day. When the Germans mount an invasion, the American soldiers scatter like cockroaches: "They ain't trained," warns Technical Fairy. "They ain't got no morale."
By scanning through some of the Snafu cartoon titles--"Booby Traps," "Spies," "SNAFU vs. Malaria Mike," and "Gas"--you'll get an idea of the problems that confronted the military. Some topics made multiple appearances. In particular, the military was apparently very concerned about loose-lipped soldiers spreading rumors and giving away information to the enemy. This subject appears in "Spies," "Rumors," and "Going Home." Not surprisingly, these cartoons were released just a few weeks before D-Day--when Allied forces under Eisenhower were preparing to land in Normandy.
Because these cartoons were intended for a strictly adult audience, the material is frequently spicier than you'll find in other Warner Bros. cartoons. In "Censored," for example, Snafu dreams of his girlfriend receiving and reading his letter. She's naked from the waist up. In "The Home Front," he imagines what's happening on the home front and he envisions his grandfather at a hoochy-coochy show where the dancers bump and grind. In addition, Snafu appears buck naked in several of the cartoons, frequently as the target of mischievous mosquitoes who delight in targeting his bare butt.
The main intent of these cartoons may have been instructional, but that doesn't mean they are any less entertaining. Directed by many of the greats from Warner Bros., including Chuck Jones, Friz Frelend, Frank Tashlin, and Bob Clamplett--these cartoons are frequently as witty as any Looney Tunes or Merry Melodies cartoons. For example, "Payday" shows Private Snafu trying to decide what to do with his money. Should he put it in the bank, or should he spend it? First, we see a vision of what Private Snafu expects after he returns home: a wife, a home, a car, a baby, and a dog. And then, as Snafu continues to make the wrong decisions, we return to the schematic view of Private Snafu's future and see how it changes with each reduction in his money. The car turns into a Model T, and then a horse-drawn buggy, and then as he continues spending money, it becomes a bicycle, and finally a pair of skates. Meanwhile, the walls of house continue to disappear until nothing is left. The baby disappears and then the wife storms off.
In the last Snafu cartoons, the sermonizing almost stops, in favor of all-out mayhem--just like you'd find in a Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck cartoon. In "No Buddy Atoll," for example, Private Snafu wages a battle of wits against a Japanese solider on a tiny Pacific island. Here, the emphasis is on the gags, not the lessons to be learned.
While the vast majority of the Snafu cartoons were produced by Warner Bros., UPA also got in on the act. They used Private Snafu in two of their "A Few Quick Facts" series. In addition, when problems arose over Leon Schlesinger's padded bills at Warner Bros., the Armed Forces turned to Harman-Ising Productions to produce one Snafu cartoon, "Private SNAFU Presents Seaman TARFU." Tex Avery's unit at MGM also worked on a Snafu cartoon, but the war ended before the animation (which was completed) was committed to celluloid.
This new DVD fills a major gap in the wartime output of Warner Bros. and allows us to experience for the first time some of the rarest cartoons in the Warner Bros. vaults. My only complaint is all the cartoons have been over-matted, which means the top of each frame has been needlessly and unfortunately cropped out. Whatever the case, though, these cartoons are a major find for Warner Bros. fans.
The Complete Uncensored Private Snafu is now available from from Bosko Video (distribution by Image Entertainment). Suggested retail price: $24.99. For additional information, we suggest you check out the Image Entertainment Web site.