Continuing with this week’s theme of World War II era animation, we must look at Warner Brothers’ big contribution to the war effort…Private Snafu. The character was created to star in a series of educational shorts for the military. Besides the artists behind the Looney Tunes, folks like Frank Capra and Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) were involved in his creation. The films are definitely not for kids, a simple knowledge of what the acronym “SNAFU” stands for is enough to make that obvious. By the way…it’s “Situation Normal, All F*** Up.”
In this short, Snafu (who like many Warner Brothers characters is voiced by Mel Blanc) is anxious to get a letter to his sweetie Sallie Lou. Unfortunately, Snafu keeps giving away too much information about where his unit is going, so the censor keeps intercepting his messages and severely editing them. The “Loose Lips Sink Ships” concept is what the filmmakers were trying to reinforce with the young GI’s in the audience. Eventually, Snafu gets a letter out that is written in a code, but it turns out Sallie Lou has loose lips too. She blabs Snafu’s destination to her mother and before we know it the army of Japan is aware of the sneak attack. In the end, Snafu finds out this was just a dream and gets his coded letter back before it can go out and cause harm.
There is some really amazing artwork in this short. The sequence where the Japanese army prepares for the attack features some great designs, many of which pass by very quickly so be prepared to freeze frame that DVD. Of course, this sequence also features some caricatures which are not at all appropriate in our culture today.
There is some unique artistry to be found in the sequence where Sallie Lou gets Snafu’s letter as well. It also serves as a quick reminder that not all cartoons are for kids as Sallie Lou reads the letter topless, wearing her garters and little else. The animators do make sure to keep her arms strategically placed so as not to show too much, but there’s no doubt they were trying to make sure they had the soldier’s attention. It’s a unique moment that shows the deeper range of the artists who worked on these films.
The Snafu films are a great look at both animation history and the experiences of military men during World War II.