Going Looney, On Purpose and in Order (2)

The Bosko and Buddy Era (1930-1935)

The first Looney Tunes “stars” were Bosko, then Buddy. Bosko had a girlfriend named Honey, and Buddy had Cookie. There isn’t much that distinguishes the two characters; Bosko is dark-skinned and Buddy is light-skinned. They’re each pretty dull. Unfortunately, if you’ve seen one Bosko or Buddy film, you’ve sort of seen them all. To quote Leonard Maltin in “Of Mice and Magic,”  “These cartoons seem pleasant and somewhat imaginative — until one watches three in a row.”

What to Look For

For animation buffs, among the things to look for are instances of rotoscoping (tracing live action), which become obvious once you spot them. As the early animators learn to effectively convey quick movement, it’s fun to go frame-by-frame to learn the secrets. And it’s quite interesting when the action has some perspective; instead of left-right scrolling, as in a primitive video game, the early renderings of action coming towards or away from the viewer perspective are notable. There are some gags of which the animators seem so proud they show up in nearly every cartoon. The popular effect in this early era? Let an approaching character’s mouth form a dark jump cut to the next scene.

Adult Themes

These films were shown before a feature meant for a wide audience, so the time-honored tradition of sneaking in some pre-Code entertainment for Mom and Dad and Grandpa is in effect. There are lots of outhouse and bedpan gags. Despite Bosko’s girlfriend Honey spending her every appearance both topless and flat-chested, her clothesline always has a brassiere hanging on it. When a telephone or alarm clock rings, the two front-mounted bells often put on a display of mammalian pendulousness. In 1930’s Congo Jazz, (cartoon #2), and 1932’s Pagan Moon, a dancing coconut tree has coconut eyes that descend to become coconut breasts that are wildly gyrated and released as missiles! 1931’s Bosko the Doughboy has a surprising amount of wartime carnage. One recurring gag from this era features characters sliding down banisters only to have the rail removed by an enemy and the victim being pounded in the crotch by the exposed uprights. And, of course, early animation from many studios featured kicks, bites, stabbings and other indignities visited upon the rear ends of characters. The discovery that barnyard animals have underwear beneath their fur is also made during this time, although that doesn’t apply to the cows that appear to be 50% udder. And there’s a lot of drinking in these films.

Topical References

Hollywood caricatures feature during this era, as in so many cartoons later on. Greta Garbo always has huge feet and “vants to be alone;” Jimmy Durante is mortified; Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Oliver Hardy, W.C. Fields, Mae West and the Marx Brothers make multiple appearances. 


Late in the era one starts to recognize Bernice Hansen and Billy Bletcher doing voice work, but the voices before 1935 are for the most part bland and undistinguished. Bosko was usually voiced by Carman Maxwell in the early years, Buddy by Jack Carr.

The films of this first era lie squarely at the intersection of melodrama and vaudeville. Particularly in the Merrie Melodies series, here’s the formula: (a) 1 or 2 choruses of the title song; (b) the bad guy’s entrance and kidnapping of the leading lady; (c) the hitherto timid hero’s rescue of his gal. If you only watch a few of the 1930-1935 films, some of the better ones include Bosko the Doughboy, How Do I Know It’s Sunday, Bosko’s Mechanical Man, Sinkin’ in the Bathtub (cartoon #1) and Red-Headed Baby. If you want to be astonished or shocked by what passed for family entertainment in the early 1930s, check out Buddy’s Circus, One Step Ahead of My Shadow, and Buddy of the Apes. For a strange, unexpected surprise ending, watch Ride Him, Bosko.

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