Private Snafu

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Private Snafu
Opening card
Directed byChuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, Frank Tashlin, Zack Schwartz, George Gordon
Produced byLeon Schlesinger
Written byTheodor Geisel, P. D. Eastman, and Munro Leaf
StarringMel Blanc
Music byCarl Stalling
Distributed byUS Army
Release date
June 28, 1943 – 1946
Running time
4 minutes
CountryUnited States

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 series was directed by Chuck Jones and other prominent Hollywood animators, and the voice of Private Snafu was performed by Mel Blanc.


Coming!! SNAFU, the first episode introducing Private Snafu, directed by Chuck Jones, 1943

The character was created by director Frank Capra, chairman of the U.S. Army Air Force First Motion Picture Unit, and most were written by Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel, Philip D. Eastman, and Munro Leaf.[1] 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 cartoons thus represented a multi-talent collaboration by some of America's best in their respective fields, a common occurrence in the war effort.

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.[1]

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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[3]

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 ... All Fouled Up!"[4]


Home Front, directed by Frank Tashlin in 1943

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.[5] 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 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.

Fighting Tools, directed by Bob Clampett in 1943

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 some of these never made it to celluloid 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.

Operation Snafu, directed by Friz Freleng in 1945

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 that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In 1946, 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.[6] In the cartoon Three Brothers, it is revealed that Snafu has two brothers, a carrier pigeon keeper named Tarfu and a dog trainer named Fubar (for "Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition").


Extracted image from the film Gas, showing Private Snafu meeting Bugs Bunny

As now-declassified work of the United States government, 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,[7][8] and Bosko Video.

At least one of the Private Snafu shorts was used as an exhibit piece: the short Spies was used for the World War II exhibit at the International Spy Museum.

Impact on children's literature[edit]

Private Snafu: Spies – Office of the Chief Signal Officer. This animated film features the Private Snafu, voiced by Mel Blanc. In this cautionary tale, Private Snafu has a secret: his ship leaves for Africa at 4:30. Eventually, the details end up right on Adolf Hitler's desk, and the ship is attacked.

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.[1]


Private Snafu[edit]

Note: All shorts were created for the U.S. War Department and were created by Warner Bros. Cartoons unless otherwise noted. The films, being produced for the U.S. government, are in the public domain.

Title Director Release date Note DVD & Blu-ray availability Video
Coming!! Snafu Chuck Jones June 28, 1943 Pilot for Private Snafu LTGC Volume 5, Disc 3
Private Snafu Golden Classics
Gripes Friz Freleng July 5, 1943 LTGC Volume 5, Disc 3
Private Snafu Golden Classics
Spies Chuck Jones August 9, 1943 Was seen (with parts cut for content) on the Cartoon Network special ToonHeads: The Lost Cartoons. LTGC Volume 3, Disc 4;
Private Snafu Golden Classics
The Goldbrick Frank Tashlin September 13, 1943 LTGC Volume 4, Disc 2
Private Snafu Golden Classics
The Infantry Blues Chuck Jones September 20, 1943 Private Snafu Golden Classics
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"; this would not actually happen for another 18 months.
The Home Front Frank Tashlin November 15, 1943 LTGC Volume 4, Disc 2
Private Snafu Golden Classics
Rumors Friz Freleng December 13, 1943 LTGC Volume 3, Disc 4
Private Snafu Golden Classics
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") Private Snafu Golden Classics
Snafuperman Friz Freleng March 6, 1944 LTGC Volume 3, Disc 4
Private Snafu Golden Classics
Private Snafu vs. Malaria Mike Chuck Jones March 27, 1944 Private Snafu Golden Classic
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.
Going Home Chuck Jones Unreleased,
(Planned for 1944)
The often-quoted "Coming Home" is a non-existent title. It refers to "Going Home" - "Coming Home" was a result of an old typo.[9] Snafu-Going Home.gif
The Chow Hound Frank Tashlin June 19, 1944
Censored Frank Tashlin July 17, 1944 LTGC Volume 4, Disc 2
Private Snafu Golden Classics
Outpost Chuck Jones August 1, 1944 Private Snafu Golden Classics
Pay Day Friz Freleng September 25, 1944
Target: Snafu Friz Freleng 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
Secrets of the Caribbean Chuck Jones Unreleased
(planned for 1945)
Master given to the Army[9]
Lost cartoon
Private Snafu Presents Seaman Tarfu in the Navy George Gordon 1946 Only Private Snafu entry not produced by Warner Bros; Produced by Harman and Ising. Private Snafu Golden Classics
A Hitch in Time Chuck Jones January 1, 1955 Produced in color; uses redesigned and renamed Snafu as "John McRogers" and Technical Fairy First Class as "Grogan, Technical Gremlin First Class" Miscellaneous shorts LTPC Volume 1, Disc 3 (special feature)

Few Quick Facts[edit]


Title Date Director Studio Notes
AIR&NAVY/China/Safety 1944 unknown MGM Snafu appears in the third act.
US Soldier/Bullet/Diarrhea and Dysentery 1944 unknown MGM and UPA[10] Snafu appears in the third act.
USS Iowa/Brain/Shoes 1944 unknown MGM Snafu appears in the third act.
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
Inflation 1945 Osmond Evans UPA
About Fear 1945 Osmond Evans UPA
Japan 1945 Osmond Evans UPA
Lend/Lease 1945 unknown UPA
GI Bill of Rights[11] 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.[12] Additionally Another Change (1945) produced by Disney was probably also left out of the Few Quick Series .[13]


Title Date Director Studio
Mop Up (How to Get a Fat Jap Out of a Cave)[14] Planned for 1946 Tex Avery MGM
Tuscarora Planned for 1946 Hugh Harman Harman-Ising

Similar cartoons[edit]

While Private Snafu is well known for educating military soldiers, a few other short 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 for 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.[15] McGillicuddy was a US Marine who was similar to Snafu (in fact both are voiced by Mel Blanc), but his shorts uses a greater emphasis of education about the health of a Marine soldier. The cartoons also use limited animation, which wouldn't be a popular 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.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Nel 2007
  2. ^ Coons, Robbin (February 15, 1944). "Private Snafu Army Favorite". Prescott Evening Courier. Retrieved July 5, 2011.
  3. ^ a b Cohen (2004), p. 40
  4. ^ Silvey, Anita. "Fifty Years of 'The Cat in the Hat'". NPR. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  5. ^ Cohen (2004), p. 41
  6. ^ "Private Snafu Presents Seaman Tarfu in the Navy (1946)". IMDb. 2009-05-01. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  7. ^ "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.
  8. ^ "Private Snafu Golden Classics: Movies & TV". Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  9. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-05-12. Retrieved 2008-05-05.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ "UPA Filmography". Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  11. ^ "GI Bill Of Rights (1946)".
  12. ^ "Snafu Art INDEX". Archived from the original on 2012-03-31. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Cohen, Charles D. (2004). The Seuss, the Whole Seuss and Nothing But the Seuss. Random House. p. 261. ISBN 978-0375922480.
  15. ^

External links[edit]