Saturday, 23 July 2016

SNAFU: Coming!! Snafu (1943)

Where's the consistency? Is this some sort of mistake? Have I simply forgotten to post a review on the upcoming Yankee Doodle Daffy? Has this blog become "situation normal all fouled up"?

For the sake of explaining this to anyone who might be confused: it is now my intention to review all of the Private SNAFU cartoons produced by the Warner Bros. studio. Some of you may raise eyebrows! Some may raise noses! Or some may raise some excitement! 

I have several reasons why I've decided to review the shorts, despite being training films. To begin with, the aim of the blog is to review every single Warner Bros. cartoon from Bosko to Cool Cat...I'm also counting the shorts that weren't distributed by Warner Bros: so the Snafus, Seaman Hook, etc. Before I eat those words: I won't be reviewing the post-1969 cartoons, as the blogger's aim is finish everything "from Bosko to Cool Cat". On a side note, I've decided to not review Any Bonds Today, as it's merely a short propaganda piece, and nothing else! 

Second, the Private SNAFU cartoons are a testament from Leon Schlesinger's crew of how exciting and edgy they humour could get. The purpose of the cartoons were to guide enlisted men during World War II with little education background and poor literacy skills by learning through cartoon animation, with a touch of crude humour and mild profanity that would've motivated them far greater than an informative lecture. Henceforth, it's fascinating to watch the freedom the Schlesinger Studio had by delivering racy features that would've been too far-fetched and controversial in a public Warner Bros. cartoon release.

Also, I will review the SNAFU cartoons concurrently with the Warner Bros. cartoons - count these as bonus reviews!

For the minority of my readers who might be unaware of the series' historical background; I'll pass it forward.

The Private SNAFU series were a part of the weekly Army-Navy Screen Magazines program (first titled as The War), that were distributed and screened to army camps and naval bases. The purpose of the cartoons were to educate soldiers on the potential hazards attributed from carelessness - with the soldier, Snafu, being the prime example of that. It was primarily  similar to the WW2 propaganda morals, like "Careless talk cost lives".

The character was created by film director Frank Capra - whom is probably best known today for directing the Columbia hit It Happened One Night, and It's a Wonderful Life, and was a very influential director during the Hollywood studio system era. Capra, in World War II, was the chairman of the U.S. Army Air Force Motion Picture Unit, and conceived the character with Walt Disney in mind of producing them into animated shorts. Capra also had a pool of talented, established writers, like Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Phil Eastman, Gene Fleury and former Disney storywriter Otto Englander writing the series. Although Disney started development of the first Snafu (the original storyboards can be viewed in Dave Gerstein's Mickey and the Gang: Classic Stories in Verse). However, Leon Schlesinger won the bid by underbidding Walt and winning the contract - producing the shorts within the budget of 10-12K. Mel Blanc gives some added character into his great performances of the goony private.

The late Martha Sigall recalls an interesting anecdote on the secrecy of the short's production, which can be heard on one of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 5 special features:

"And [the films] were supposed to be very secret. All of us had to be finger-printed, and we had to wear [identification] badges every day that showed we were able to work on the SNAFUS. They only gave us ten cels at one time, because they did not want us to know what was going on in the picture. If they had given us three hundred [cels], we wouldn't have known. We didn't pay attention to things like that."

Snafu's name is based on the military slang acronym SNAFU ("Situation Normal: All Fucked Up"). However, the Schlesinger crew created a cleaner version, as indicated in the title card above. But, the studio couldn't help but throw in a subtle piece of crude humour as the narrator hesitates on the anticipation of pronouncing the "F".

The first of these shorts, Coming!! Snafu (released 06/1943), was first directed by Chuck Jones, who also co-designed the character along with Art Heinemann. Chuck is given the responsibility of directing the cartoon that establishes the premise and scenario surrounding the series.

The short is primarily an inauguration that explains the overall substance of Snafu, and his characteristics guided by Frank Graham's narration. His own name has connotations of clumsiness and incompetence - emphasising he's the meaning of any wrongdoing from the army's point of view. He's even dubbed as, "the goofiest soldier in the U.S. Army"--so, he can't be as much of a goof compared as those dang Nazis! Ahem.

The majority of Snafu's incompetence is showcased in the sequence of the military soldiers learning how to properly roll a backpack. While other soldiers are seen doing a proper job, Snafu's method is half-assed and sloppy. His lack of common sense requires him to be more physical in adjusting his own backpack.

So, in the next scene: Snafu's justice is met through Chuck's ingenious comic timing. A camera pan indicates the correct form of a backpack seen from the competent soldiers. As the pan ends of Snafu, his effort greatly contrasts the other soldiers.

The backpack gradually begins to unfold as the objects begin to loosen apart from one another until it all collides; ending with a pot landing on Snafu's head - the symbolisation of a dunce.

The montage title cards also demonstrate Snafu's ignorance through simple illustrations that adds illusion to his foolishness greatly. In the artillery title card, Snafu's personality can be summed up in that one pose as he curiously peeks his head inside the cannon. His failures are further seen in the other title cards, like the "para-troops" slide, that features Snafu flying in a torn parachute.

To some extent, Snafu also shares the same thoughts and pleasures as a majority of men in the army. If there's one thing Snafu has in common: it's women. The purpose of the army was to keep their men conscientious and to prevent them from seductive women. Snafu represents the failure of that factor, as he heedlessly walks from the docks and falls into the water, upon seeing a poster of an attractive female model.

Snafu's distractions are most revealing in his visual dream of a seductive woman performing a racy striptease. This occurs in the sequence of Snafu carrying out with his duties by driving a pushback in the air corp.

Suddenly, a thought bubble is presented visually as Snafu dreams of a seductive female while singing Strip Polka. The gag could be considered reminiscent of the striptease gags evident in some of Tex Avery's spot-gag cartoons, until a racy additional action is inserted.

The woman in Snafu's dream unveils her robe, as she exposes her completely naked figure as her robe slides down her body. In a quick matter of timing; censorship bars cover her breasts and navel. The delayed timing on the censor bar covering the navel, has a subtle touch to it; as it's exposed in six frames upon freeze-framing. The sequence presents a great case on the liberties the Schlesinger unit had in conceiving gags, that would otherwise be extremely taboo.

And so, Snafu's distraction creates calamity as his plane goes unattached from the pushback and crashes off-screen. The following scene reveals Snafu being interrogated by the military police as he attempts to confront them ("Listen, you guys! Don't gimme none of that stuff. I'm no dummy. I know my rights as a soldier!."

The scene cross dissolves to reveal Snafu trapped inside a prison cell - a prisoner of his own war, to speak hyperbolically. And so, Snafu protests, "I wanna a lawyer! Gimme a lawyer!"

A recurring gag in the series' closure would typically be a match dissolve of a horses' ass - a visual metaphor of Snafu being a jackass. It would typically be complete with Carl Stalling's "jackass" motif, best known in All This and Rabbit Stew or Falling Hare. Here, the horse neighs the rhythm of the cue as the short irises out. So, the short ends with a title card promising upcoming Snafu shorts like (Gripes, Spies, etc) which zoom in slide-by-slide.

Although the cartoon is primarily introductory to the premise and the character, it's a good bracer that sets in store for more of Snafu's antics - and Jones' direction is off at a fine start. Snafu's debut serves as a great taster which demonstrate some of Snafu's buffoonery and what lies in store. There isn't a great deal to speak about the cartoon, as the short doesn't follow a storyline - other than a guidance on not to "foul up". The series itself isn't set on individual story lines; as they're all largely the same: except the locale changes each time. On an additional note, I've decided not to give the Snafu shorts ratings - like I'd normally do for the Warner cartoons. This is largely because the shorts were produced for educational purposes, and not for public distribution and exhibition.


  1. Cool! It's awesome that you're reviewing the snafu cartoons now.

  2. In addition to SNAFU, other acronyms used by soldiers were TARFU (Things Are Really F*cked Up), FUBAR (F*cked Up Beyond All Repair/Recognition/Reason), FUBB (F*cked Up Beyond Belief) and BOHICA (Bend Over, Here It Comes Again).