Thursday, 29 December 2011

80. Goin' to Heaven on a Mule (1934)

Warner cartoon no. 79.
Release date: May 19, 1934.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Cast unknown.
Animation: Rollin Hamilton and Bob McKimson.
Musical Score: Norman Spencer.

 Our cartoon begins inside a coal field where there is a bunch of black people that work there. Well, this is history since they used to work all day on cotton fields making cotton. We see a couple of black people that are picking some cotton and placing them into sacks, such as a buffed-up fellow who picks cotton out of a plant, and places then inside a sack with a small guy carrying a load full of it. We even get to see some gags such as a slave who has a lawn mower and shaves off the cotton that lands into the sack immediately that he is carrying. We see a shot of one of the slaves putting the cotton inside the machine, in which we PAN through the machine as a lot of the cotton immediately turn into clothes with the sign "100% all Wool Suits", well I guess I can't complain about that gag - and it works to me.

I should point out that Goin' to Heaven on a Mule was an old song written for it's time that was from the film Wonder Bar that Al Jolson performed as he was known for his time to perform "blackface" sketches that are of course - politically incorrect these days, but of course entertainment of it's time.

 Meanwhile there is another slave who is sleeping in the barn all day and not doing any work (well, it sounds harsh when I say it because they were slaves). But anyway he is sleeping on top of some hay with flies flying around him. He breathes in as he snores (with the flies almost flying in) and then snores (breathes) out as the flies fly out from his breath. The flies have had enough of the breath and trying to fly past but then the flies. The flies then form themselves into a plane in which they all start to sting the poor fellow. Jesus, even the flies at the time hate him, too? I hope this cartoon isn't meant to be made to stereotype black people and if it isn't - why isn't it included in the "Censored 11" it deserves to be in it more than SOME of the other cartoons that were included.

Anyhow, the black person sits back up and is about to take a drink of moonshine. But then an angel conscience pops up and warns him not to drink the moonshine. Huh? I'm not trying to be racist, but was this really the plan to include an white angel here, and not a black version (apologizes to those if offended). Then a devil conscience pops up demanding him to drink him - in which there causes a feud with the consciences. The fellow doesn't bother with both of them, so he just goes along and drinks it. He turns all weary with a fiery breath, and then it all dissolves into a dream sequence in heaven.

The fellow is now in heaven riding his mule singing the title song Goin' to Heaven on a Mule. The fellow on the mule is then entering a gate with the sign reading "Pair-O-Dice", and I assume this is another stereotype that I don't know much because in Coal Black Prince Chawin' had a pair-o'-dice in one of his teeth. There is a bunch of black angels that sing to the black guy on the mule riding. There is a God in there that also sings the song, as well as a bunch of other guys. 

As the song goes on there is the angel choir that still continue to sing the title song. Meanwhile there is a fellow who appears to have a couple of golf clubs and tries to get inside but "God" (whatever that is) then pushes him outside and removes the "Welcome" doormat away. Mmm, seems as though he doesn't care anymore. We then get to see an inside view of heaven that shows a town and somehow it only shows black angels in there, is this meant to be a type of ghetto town or something? There are also police cops up there that let angels cross. It's basically like downtown really, except add some clouds for the ground, put wings on them and the location is heaven. 

We then see an inside shot of a nightclub inside where there are these entertainers that are singing and dancing. As those entertainers on stage are singing, there is a gag that as they swap positions their hats are taller or smaller than the others, and it seems to get smaller at every position. We then see a black fellow that walks into thisclub and eats a watermelon. Okay, but I really am lost now. Is this meant to be heaven, still because some of the characters don't have angels wings? We see some type of drummer that drums on the little hoops above the angels that makes a lovely xylophone.

We then see another piece of entertainment of that see is these black angels that still play the piano. Ah, jeez, this whole cartoon just plays around with black people - and yet again this was ignored from the Censored 11. We see the black person that is eating the piece of watermelon and finishes it off. So a couple of those angels are still plunking to some tunes. The fellow that was eating the watermelon then looks outside to find an orchard will of gin but of course it's forbidden. He goes to the garden and starts to drink some of the gin. Either because he's not aware it's forbidden or thought "Screw laws and forbidden signs - drink!"

As the fellow who is drinking gin starts giggling (because he's drunk) the black God then stands behind him and taps his foot. The man who is drunk appears to be making some joke out of him with him replying "You'll pay for this!" Huh, doesn't it remind you a bit of the Garden of Eden where God tells Adam and Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit - it's very obvious. Too clear that he is drunk and wasted, the guards then grab him and they toss him into some type of pit (the writing on the door is too dark to see in this poor quality). 

The black fellow then falls underground as he was the same character eating that watermelon (man, this cartoon really confused me). He's back into the same locations from the beginning of the short, and he tosses his moonshine jug across the roof, and realized his love for it and then chases after it. He grabs it, sweats - and that's all folks.

When I watched this cartoon - the whole concept never seemed to clear to me. I know that it was about these slaves that worked in a cotton field, and one of them drank moonshine where they go to heaven full of other black people and it just has their culture for their time. Furthermore, there are some cartoons in Looney Tunes that I don't understand that are in the Censored 11 program, and some that I think should be. Let's compare it with Hittin' the Trail for Hallelujah Land and Goin' to Heaven on a Mule. In Hittin' the Trail the colors for Uncle Tom in that is so badly discolored and who's going to know that's a black stereotype and there's pretty much nothing harmful about it. In THIS cartoon that I'm reviewing; it clearly shows caricatures of black people and it's throughout the entire cartoon and shows them working in a cotton field so why isn't that in the Censored 11?


  1. The Censored 11 was essentially the Pre-1948 color cartoons that AAP (later United Artists, and eventually Turner/Warner) had in their library to distribute on TV. None of the black & white cartoons in the Warner library were shown in syndication (save those colorized from Fred Ladd's Korea production staff). Warner Bros. had all the other cartoons, but chose not to release them to TV at all, not thinking they would be popular.

    1. Well, technically, Hittin' the Trail for Hallelujah Land is in Black and White, and that is in the Censored Eleven.

    2. To add onto (and partially reiterate) what Jay said those many eons ago, the AAP library consisted of all color LT/MM cartoons pre-August 1948 and all the Harman-Ising Merrie Melodies (except for the very first one, 'Lady, Play your Mandolin!', for some odd reason). AAP folded into United Artists eventually where in 1968, the Censored 11 was created, and upheld by Turner Entertainment when it brought out the AAP library (and today, Warner still has no say since those aforementioned cartoons are still under Turner's rule, although Turner is owned by Warner of course, Warner still needs the permission from Turner to release these shorts on tv/dvd...kind of strange considering it's THEIR cartoons technically, but business...)

      So with all that said, why wasn't 'Goin' to Heaven on a Mule' on the Censored 11 list? Because this short was not under AAP's ownership, but rather another company called 'Sunset Productions', which consisted of all the B&W Looney Tunes, the post Harman-Ising Merrie Melodies and 'Lady, Play Your Mandolin'. These shorts were quickly bought back by Warner Bros. in the late 1960s, and in turn, not subject to the same guidelines as the AAP shorts were.

    3. I just found out that the restoration work for the Censored 11 cartoons were completed according to Jerry Beck, so I guess Turner is finally letting loose on this? Or something else...

    4. Nope. Jerry Beck said it isn't happening.

  2. The bits with dice in various cartoons are another racial stereotype. Supposedly African-Americans supposedly loved shooting craps. If you ever track down episodes of Jack Benny's radio show - particularly episodes where Jack and his gang are out in New York there are usually references to Benny's butler Rochester being out shooting dice.

    Also, in the 1930s segregation was a fact of life. Most American cities had black neighborhoods, like Harlem in New York, and Central Avenue in Los Angeles. While these areas were segregated they didn't necessarily indicate a ghetto as we understand the term today. These segregated neighborhoods would include people of all economic strata including professionals (doctors and lawyers), businessmen and entertainers. So the American mind in the 1930s I suppose that seeing a "segregated Heaven" in a movie or a cartoon wouldn't be as shocking as it is for us today.

  3. Goin' to Heaven on a Mule was not part of Censored Eleven

    1. No one said it was

  4. Regarding Jay Sabicer's comment: The early 1930's cartoons, including Bosko and Buddy, were indeed shown in syndication during the 1960's. That is how I once saw a good deal of the Buddy titles and the occasional black and white title, like "THE GIRL AT THE IRONING BOARD". In the New York area, we had a channel 9, WOR-TV, and they had a show called "THE LOONEY TUNES CIRCUS", and this show, hosted by Claude Kirschner, aired just about every LOONEY TUNES and MERRIE MELODIES title from the 1930's, similar to Nickelodeon's "LOONEY TUNES" show, only WOR-TV aired the whole uncut cartoon, titles and all. Perhaps some titles were excluded, like "BOSKO'S PICTURE SHOW" because of the perceived four-letter word, or maybe titles like this one, although an Al Jolson movie was more and likely one that would show up on WOR-TV, so they probably understood the times in which the cartoon was created and allowed it occasionally. Cartoons like "BUDDY OF THE APES" which is clearly a title that parodies a well-known series of movies around the Tarzan legend, would indeed be shown. "LOONEY TUNES CIRCUS" later morphed into "TERRYTOONS CIRCUS" and that is how we got our fill of those cartoons, dating back to the first talkie, while the silent cartoons aired before the morning newscast on our ABC affiliate, along with all the classic MGM cartoons, including the now taboo BOSKO titles.