|Directed by||Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, Frank Tashlin, George Gordon|
|Written by||Theodor Geisel, P. D. Eastman, and Munro Leaf|
|Produced by||Leon Schlesinger|
|Music by||Carl Stalling|
|Distributed by||US Army|
|June 28, 1943 – 1946|
Private Snafu is the title character of a series of black-and-white American instructional adult animated shorts, ironic and humorous in tone, that were produced between 1943 and 1945 during World War II. The films were designed to instruct service personnel about security, proper sanitation habits, booby traps and other military subjects, and to improve troop morale. Primarily, they demonstrate the negative consequences of doing things wrong. The main character's name is a play on the military slang acronym SNAFU, "Situation Normal: All Fucked Up". The cleaned-up version of that phrase, usually used on radio and in print, was "Situation Normal: All Fouled Up".
The character was created by director Frank Capra, chairman of the U.S. Army Air Force First Motion Picture Unit, and most shorts were written by Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel, Philip D. Eastman, and Munro Leaf. Although the United States Army gave Walt Disney the first crack at creating the cartoons, Leon Schlesinger of the Warner Bros. animation studio underbid Disney by two-thirds and won the contract. (Disney had also demanded exclusive ownership of the character and merchandising rights.)
The goal was to help enlisted men with weak literacy skills learn through animated cartoons (and also supplementary comic books). They featured simple language, racy illustrations, mild profanity, and subtle moralizing. Private Snafu did (almost) everything wrong, so that his negative example taught basic lessons about secrecy, disease prevention, and proper military protocols.
Private Snafu cartoons were a military secret—for the armed forces only. Surveys to ascertain the soldiers' film favorites showed that the Snafu cartoons usually rated highest or second highest. Each cartoon was produced in six weeks. The shorts were classified government documents. Martha Sigall, employed at the ink and paint department, recalled the government security measures imposed on the staff working on them. They had to be fingerprinted and given FBI security clearances. They also had to wear identification badges at work. Workers at the ink and paint department were given only ten cels at a time in an effort to prevent them from figuring out the story content.
The name "Private Snafu" comes from the unofficial military acronym SNAFU ("Situation Normal: All Fucked Up"), with the opening narrator in the first cartoon merely hinting at its usual meaning as "Situation Normal, ... All Fouled Up!"
This section needs additional citations for verification. (March 2018)
The shorts did not have to be submitted for approval at the Production Code Administration and so were not subject to the Motion Picture Production Code. Most of the Private Snafu shorts are educational, and although the War Department had to approve the storyboards, the Warner directors were allowed great latitude in order to keep the cartoons entertaining. Through his irresponsible behavior, Snafu demonstrates to soldiers what not to do while at war. In Private Snafu vs. Malaria Mike, for example, Snafu neglects to take his malaria medications or to use his repellent, allowing a suave mosquito to get him in the end—literally. In "Gas" Snafu throws away his gas mask and is almost killed by poison gas. In Spies, Snafu leaks classified information a little at a time until the Axis enemies piece it together, ambush his transport ship, and literally blow him to hell. Six of Snafu's shorts actually end with him being killed due to his stupidity: Spies (blown up by enemy submarine torpedoes), Booby Traps (blown up by a bomb hidden inside a piano), The Goldbrick (run over by an enemy tank), A Lecture on Camouflage (large enemy bomb lands on him), Private Snafu vs. Malaria Mike (malaria), and Going Home (run over by a street car).
Nine of the Snafu shorts feature a character named Technical Fairy, First Class. The Technical Fairy is a crass, unshaven, cigar-smoking miniature G.I. whose fairy wings bear the insignia of a technical sergeant, and who wears only socks, shorts, and a uniform hat. When he appears, he grants Snafu's wishes, most of which involve skipping protocol or trying to do things the quick and sloppy way. The results typically end in disaster, with the Technical Fairy teaching Snafu a valuable lesson about proper military procedure. For example, in the 1944 cartoon Snafuperman, the Technical Fairy transforms Private Snafu into the superhero Snafuperman, who takes bungling to a super-powered level through his carelessness.
Later in the war, however, Snafu's antics became more like those of fellow Warner character 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 1940s standards, with minor cursing, bare-bottomed GIs, and plenty of scantily clad (and even semi-nude) women. The depictions of Japanese and Germans are hostile-comic, 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. P. D. Eastman was a writer and storyboard artist for the Snafu shorts. Voice characterizations were provided by the celebrated Mel Blanc (Private Snafu's voice was similar to Blanc's Bugs Bunny characterization, and Bugs himself actually made cameos in the Snafu episodes Gas and Three Brothers). Toward the end of the war, other studios began producing Snafu shorts as well (the Army accused Schlesinger of padding his bills), though these were never filmed before the war ended. The Snafu films are also partly responsible for keeping the animation studios open during the war—by producing such training films, the studios were declared an essential industry.
The character has since made a couple of brief cameos: the Animaniacs episode "Boot Camping" has a character looking very much like Private Snafu, and the Futurama episode "I Dated a Robot" shows Private Snafu on the building-mounted video screen for a few seconds in the opening credits.
While Private Snafu was never officially a theatrical cartoon character when the series was launched in 1943 (with the debut short Coming! Snafu, directed by Chuck Jones), a proto-Snafu does appear, unnamed and in color, in Jones' cartoon The Draft Horse, released theatrically one year earlier, on May 9, 1942. This appearance would serve as the basis for Snafu's character in the series.
The 24th film of the series, Going Home, produced in 1945, was never released. The premise is what damage could be done if a soldier on leave talks too much about his unit's military operations. In the film, Snafu discusses a "secret weapon" with his girlfriend which was unnervingly (and unintentionally) similar to the atomic bombs under development.
In 1945, a series of cartoons for the Navy featuring Private Snafu's brother "Seaman Tarfu" (for "Things Are Really Fucked Up") was planned, but the war came to a close and the project never materialized, save for a single cartoon entitled Private Snafu Presents Seaman Tarfu in the Navy.
As now-declassified work of the United States government, all Private Snafu shorts are in the public domain and are thus freely available in numerous places, including on YouTube and Internet Archive.
Also, Warner Home Video has begun including Private Snafu shorts as bonus material on their Looney Tunes Golden Collection. Other commercial DVDs are available from Thunderbean Animation, who released a DVD containing all the Snafu cartoons entitled Private Snafu Golden Classics, and Bosko Video. The Private Snafu shorts were released on Blu-ray on November 19, 2015 by Thunderbean.
Impact on children's literature
According to a postwar study of the Snafu cartoons, the wartime experiences of authors Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Philip D. Eastman, and Munro Leaf shaped their successful postwar children's books, especially the use of simple language, and some of the themes. Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat (1957) because Geisel believed the widely used Dick and Jane primers were too boring to encourage children to read. Geisel, Eastman, and Leaf authored books designed to promote personal responsibility, conservation, and respect for multiculturalism, while teaching and accepting the reality of sex differences. Some racial characterisations are considered questionable today. Geisel's characters were often portrayed as rebels who displayed independence of mind. Eastman's characters, on the other hand, typically embraced the wisdom of authority figures. Leaf's heroes were in between, and seemed more ambiguous toward independence and authority.
|Coming!! Snafu||Chuck Jones||June 28, 1943||Pilot for Private Snafu|
Narrated by Frank Graham
|Gripes||Friz Freleng||July 5, 1943||All voices are provided by Mel Blanc|
|Spies||Chuck Jones||August 9, 1943||Was seen (with parts cut for content) on the Cartoon Network special ToonHeads: The Lost Cartoons.|
|The Goldbrick||Frank Tashlin||September 13, 1943|
|The Infantry Blues||Chuck Jones||September 20, 1943|
|Fighting Tools||Bob Clampett||October 18, 1943||Cameo of Daffy Duck as Father Duck. |
A briefly seen newspaper sub-headline reads "Adolph Hitler Commits Suicide", an event that would not become a reality until 18 months after this short premiered.
|The Home Front||Frank Tashlin||November 15, 1943||Some versions of this short exist where the line at the beginning, "It's so cold, it could freeze the nuts off a jeep" was cut.|
|Rumors||Friz Freleng||December 13, 1943|
|Booby Traps||Bob Clampett||January 10, 1944||First appearance of the "Endearing Young Charms" musical bomb gag, which would be reused in two Bugs Bunny shorts ("Ballot Box Bunny" and "Show Biz Bugs"), one Wile E.Coyote/Road Runner short (Rushing Roulette), and in Animaniacs ("Slappy Goes Walnuts")|
|Snafuperman||Friz Freleng||March 6, 1944|
|Private Snafu vs. Malaria Mike||Chuck Jones||March 27, 1944|
|A Lecture on Camouflage||Chuck Jones||April 24, 1944|
|Gas||Chuck Jones||May 29, 1944||Bugs Bunny makes a cameo appearance, having been pulled from Snafu's gas mask bag.|
|The Chow Hound||Friz Freleng||June 19, 1944|
|Censored||Frank Tashlin||July 17, 1944||Was seen (with parts cut for content) on an episode of ToonHeads about the Private Snafu cartoons.|
|Outpost||Chuck Jones||August 1, 1944|
|Pay Day||Friz Freleng||September 25, 1944|
|Target: Snafu||Frank Tashlin||October 23, 1944|
|Three Brothers||Friz Freleng||December 4, 1944||Bugs Bunny makes a cameo appearance in the scene where Fubar tries to escape from the dogs.|
|In the Aleutians – Isles of Enchantment||Chuck Jones||February 12, 1945|
|It's Murder She Says||Chuck Jones||February 26, 1945|
|Hot Spot||Friz Freleng||July 2, 1945|
|No Buddy Atoll||Chuck Jones||October 8, 1945|
|Operation Snafu||Friz Freleng||December 22, 1945||In a cartoon with no dialog, Snafu does something right for once as he personally steals Japanese war plans and captures Tojo himself.|
|Private Snafu Presents Seaman Tarfu in the Navy||George Gordon||1946||Produced by Harman and Ising.|
|Going Home||Chuck Jones||Unreleased,
(Planned for 1944)
|Was seen uncut on the ToonHeads episode about cartoons that parodied the newsreel. There are various theories as to why the short was never released, among them that the depicted "secret weapon" was too reminiscent of the American nuclear weapons program.|
|Secrets of the Caribbean||Chuck Jones||Unreleased
(planned for 1945)
|N/A||Master given to the Army|
|Mop Up||Tex Avery||Unreleased
(planned for 1945)
|N/A||Project was aborted before filming; also known as How to Get a Fat Jap Out of a Cave|
Few Quick Facts
In addition to his own shorts, Snafu made some cameo appearances in the Few Quick Facts series of Army-commissioned training films produced by other studios.
|AIR&NAVY/China/Safety||1944||unknown||MGM||Snafu appears in the third segment.|
|US Soldier/Bullet/Diarrhea and Dysentery||1944||unknown||MGM and UPA||Snafu appears in the third segment.|
|USS Iowa/Brain/Shoes||1944||unknown||MGM||Snafu appears in the third segment.|
|Chaplin Corps/Accidents/Gas||1944||unknown||MGM||Snafu appears in the second act.|
|Voting for Servicemen Overseas||1944||unknown||Disney Studio|
|Venereal Disease||1944||unknown||Disney Studio||Lost cartoon|
|About Fear||1945||Osmond Evans||UPA|
|GI Bill of Rights||1946||unknown||Disney Studio|
In addition, Weapons of War (1945) was originally planned to be part of the Few Quick Facts series but was left out. Additionally Another Change (1945) produced by Disney was probably also left out of the Few Quick Facts series.
While Private Snafu is well known for educating military soldiers, a few other similar series were produced for slightly different purposes. Produced by Walter Lantz Productions and later Warner Bros. Cartoons, Mr. Hook was created to encourage American Navy personnel to buy war bonds and hold them until the end of the war.
Also around the same time, Hugh Harman Productions created a short series called Commandments for Health, along with a character named Private McGillicuddy. McGillicuddy was a US Marine who was similar to Snafu (in fact both are voiced by Mel Blanc), but his shorts use a greater emphasis of education about the health of a Marine. The cartoons also use limited animation, which would not be a common animation technique until the late 1950's.
- Cohen, Karl F. (2004). "Censorship of Theatrical Animation". Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators in America. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0786420322.
- Birdwell, Michael (June 2005). "Technical fairy first class? Is this any way to Run an Army?: Private Snafu and World War II". Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. 25 (2): 203–212. doi:10.1080/01439680500137953. S2CID 191468765.
- Culbert, David H. (1976). "Walt Disney's Private Snafu: The Use of Humor in World War II Army Film". Prospects: An Annual Journal of American Culture. 1: 81–96. doi:10.1017/S0361233300004300.
- Nel, P. (2007). "Children's Literature Goes to War: Dr. Seuss, P. D. Eastman, Munro Leaf, and the Private SNAFU Films (1943–46)". The Journal of Popular Culture. 40 (3): 468–487. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5931.2007.00404.x. S2CID 162293411.
- Nel 2007
- Coons, Robbin (February 15, 1944). "Private Snafu Army Favorite". Prescott Evening Courier. Retrieved July 5, 2011.
- Cohen (2004), p. 40
- Silvey, Anita. "Fifty Years of 'The Cat in the Hat'". NPR.org. NPR. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
- Cohen (2004), p. 41
- "Private Snafu Presents Seaman Tarfu in the Navy (1946)". IMDb. 2009-05-01. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
- "Announcing: The Private Snafu Sneak Preview Disc for GAC only!" (Forums Archives). Golden age cartoons. Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
- Private Snafu Golden Classics: Movies & TV. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
- "Private Snafu Golden Classics Blu-ray".
- "Coming!! Snafu (1943): Trivia". IMDb. Retrieved 9 June 2021.
- "Coming!! Snafu (1943): Cast". IMDb. Retrieved 9 June 2021.
- "Gripes (1943): Cast". IMDb. Retrieved 9 June 2021.
- "Misce-Looney-Ous: Situation Normal All Fouled up". Archived from the original on 2008-05-12. Retrieved 2008-05-05.
- Shull, Michael S.; Wilt, David E. (2004), "Private Snafu Cartoons", Doing Their Bit: Wartime American Animated Short Films, 1939-1945, McFarland & Company, p. 194-195, ISBN 978-0786481699
- Cohen, Charles (24 February 2004). The Seuss, the Whole Seuss and Nothing but the Seuss: A Visual Biography of Theodor Seuss Geisel. ISBN 9780375822483.
- Shull, Michael S.; Wilt, David E. (23 May 2014). Doing Their Bit: Wartime American Animated Short Films, 1939-1945, 2d ed. ISBN 9780786481699.
- "UPA Filmography". whenmagooflew.com. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
- "GI Bill Of Rights (1946)". cartoonresearch.com.
- "Snafu Art INDEX". Wilwhimsey.com. Archived from the original on 2012-03-31. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
- "Rare War Shorts from the Disney Studio |".
- "The Five Commandments". July 21, 2015.