The War Years Cartoons (1942-1945)
The WB cartoons from 1942-1945 can be divided into three categories: (a) films that make no mention of the war; (b) films that don’t mention the war until either a cameo appearance or patriotic, buy-war-bonds ending; (c) wartime themes from start to finish. There are great, good and mediocre entries in each category.
There are classic masterpieces from this era. Horton Hatches the Egg, the longest Looney Tune of the golden age, contains fabulous voice work from both Kent Rogers (Horton) and Sara Berner (Mayzie). It also contains the most memorable fish suicide in motion picture history, unless you view the censored broadcast version.
The Dover Boys at Pimento University, or The Rivals of Roquefort Hall, heralded a new, influential visual style in both smeared movement and background design. Three of the first four cartoons released in 1943 are unequivocal classics: Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, Pigs in a Polka, and Tortoise Wins By a Hare.
Other essential classics of the period (although you could make a case for more) include Little Red Riding Rabbit, The Aristo-Cat, Porky Pig’s Feat, the Fantasia parody A Corny Concerto, and The Old Grey Hare. I could watch Little Red Riding Rabbit every day for the rest of my life and never grow tired of it.
Among the cartoons of this era I found a handful I don’t remember ever seeing and which seem to belong to a different studio. That could be due to two different reasons: one, that a fair amount of voice work is done by Pinto Colvig, better known as the voice of Disney’s Goofy; two, that director Norman McCabe’s style seems to stand out as different from the other directors. A cartoon like Hop and Go, from 1943, features a jumping kangaroo, two Scottish rabbits and the explosive destruction of Tokyo, but only contains vague hints of what is generally considered to be the WB golden age style and humor.
Private Snafu and his Friends
Being an insane completist, I’m also viewing all the Warner Bros. animated films made for the US military in the correct order. Most of these feature the character Pvt. Snafu, but also include Mr. Hook and Grampaw Pettibone in addition to straightforward informational films like Chuck Jones’ Point Rationing for Foods. It may not be necessary to mention that Point Rationing for Foods is neither as funny nor as entertaining as One Froggy Evening. The character-driven films featuring Pvt. Snafu, on the other hand, are uproarious, given that they were trying to catch the attention of wartime servicemen and didn’t need to worry about the Hollywood Production Code.
Tokyo Woes, Bob Clampett’s Mr. Hook short for the US Navy war bond effort, depicts some pretty offensive Japanese stereotypes; at the very end, it also features the sexiest female walk-on in Warner Bros. animation history.
New Classic Characters
A Tale of Two Kitties (cartoon #387) introduced Tweety, and Life With Feathers (cartoon #451) introduced Sylvester. They seem so inseparable now it’s hard to believe they didn’t appear together until 1947’s Tweetie Pie (cartoon #495).
Pepe Le Pew made his debut in the first cartoon released in 1945, Odor-able Kitty. Those who are unfamiliar with this first Pepe Le Pew cartoon are due for quite a surprise at the end.
Yosemite Sam made his first appearance (Hare Trigger) just two cartoons after Sylvester’s debut in 1945. That four such indelible cartoon characters were introduced in such a short period is a testament to the astonishing creativity happening at Termite Terrace during the 40s.