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Private Snafu

Private Snafu is the title character of a series of black-and-white instructional cartoon shorts produced between 1943 and 1945 during World War II. The character was created by director Frank Capra, chairman of the Armed Forces Motion Picture Unit[?], and the shorts were written by "Dr. Seuss" Theodore Geisel. Although the United States Army gave Walt Disney Studios the first crack at creating the cartoons, Leon Schlesinger of the Warner Bros. animation studio underbid Disney by two-thirds and won the contract.

Most of the Private Snafu shorts are educational, and although The Pentagon had to approve the storyboards, the Warner directors were allowed great latitude in order to keep the cartoons entertaining. Through his irresponsible behavior, Snafu (from the acronymn "Situation Normal, All Fouled/Fucked Up") demonstrates to soldiers what not to do while at war. In "Malaria Mike," for example, Snafu neglects to take his malaria medications or to use his repellant, allowing a suave mosquito to get him in the end -- literally. In "Spies," Snafu leaks classified information a little at a time until the Germans and Japanese piece it together and sink his transport ship. Later in the war, however, Snafu's antics became more like those of fellow Warner alum Bugs Bunny, a savvy hero facing the enemy head-on. The cartoons were intended for an audience of soldiers (as part of the bi-weekly "Army-Navy Screen Magazine[?]" newsreel), and so are quite risqué by 1940's standards, with minor cursing, bare-bottomed GIs, and plenty of scantily clad women. The depictions of Japanese and Germans are quite racist by today's standards, but were par for the course in wartime U.S.

The Snafu shorts are notable because they were produced during the Golden Age of Warner Bros. animation. Directors such as Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, and Frank Tashlin worked on them, and their characteristic styles are in top form. Voice characterizations were provided by the celebrated Mel Blanc. Towards the end of the war, other studios began producing Snafu shorts as well (the Army accused Schlesinger of padding his bills), though some of these never made it to celluloid before the war ended. The Snafu films are also partly responsible for keeping the animations studios open during the war -- by producing such training films, the studios were declared an essential industry.

After the war, the Snafu cartoons went largely forgotten. Prints eventually wound up in the hands of collectors, and these form the basis for The Complete, Uncensored Private Snafu, a VHS and DVD collection from Bosko Video.



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