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When Warner Brothers Cartoons Went to War

By April 13, 2008

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Here's a bit of nostalgia from WWII, when the Warner Brothers cartoon studio was in its Golden Age with Chuck Jones, and the military needed an engaging character to teach GIs how to use a gas mask, handle their equipment properly, and remember not to tell German and Japanese spies about troop movement.

Private Snafu was the brainchild of patriotic filmmaker Frank Capra, and the early short films - with plenty of Jessica-Rabbit-style cartoon cheesecake - were clearly intended to catch the interest of even the most simple-minded GIs with humor and a dimwitted hero. (For you youngsters out there, "Snafu" is a military acronym meaning "Situation Normal, All Fouled Up." The soldiers actually used a more profane word than "fouled.")

In later episodes, Snafu takes on more of a Bugs Bunny persona -- the wily everyman outwitting the enemy. In fact, the character's voice is none other than Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs himself.

Shorts like these, and such fare as Disney cartoons teaching American housewives to save their bacon grease for use in making explosives, were familiar during the war, and largely forgotten after. But they did keep the animation studios scraping by during the war years, sustaining the great tradition of American animation.

Private Snafu title - public domain

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