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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 25, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown, Louis Armstrong
There’s much to say for it: the short is one of the wonderful pre-code swing cartoons, featuring no less than the great Louis Armstrong, who appears here in person, not only in the introduction, but also as a floating head, in a remarkable blending of animation and live action.
Unfortunately, ‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You’ is also one of those ignorant cartoons featuring severe caricatures of black people, in their most cliche form: cannibals. Even worse, in this cartoon a direct connection is made between the backward caricatures and the black performers, as one of the cannibals grows into Louis Armstrong’s singing head, and his drummer (probably Tubby Hall) is likened to another big-lipped cannibal. Thus this cartoon is as entertaining as it is offensive.
There’s not much of a story: Betty, Bimbo and Koko are on a safari in dark Africa. There they encounter a tribe of hungry cannibals, who kidnap Betty. Then we cut to Bimbo and Koko on their aimless search for Betty. Soon they’re followed by a cannibal who morphs into a giant floating native head, which turns into that of Louis Armstrong singing the title song. Bimbo and Koko manage to rescue Betty with help of a porcupine. The last shot is for Louis Armstrong and his band. The complete cartoon is rather nonsensical, but Armstrong’s hot jazz make it a great ride, if an uncomfortable one.
Watch ‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’
Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 23, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
The short starts with Bimbo crashing on an island on a boat, into Betty Boop’s arms. A waterfall throws them into a spot full of singing trees, and later they’re confronted with a bunch of cannibals. Bimbo disguises himself as ‘black’ using mud, and starts singing the Hawaiian war chant. Thus he becomes the natives’ king. The cannibals perform for him, and Betty, too, who dances an extraordinarily sexy hula dance only dressed in a skirt and a flower garland. Unfortunately, the rain washes off Bimbo’s disguise and the two have to flee in a boat.
The movements of the dancing natives and Betty are rotoscoped from the Royal Samoans, rendering them very convincing and lifelike, indeed. Betty Boop’s hula dance is arguably her best scene ever. Apart from this, the cartoon is stuffed with throwaway gags showing the Fleischer’s typical brand of surrealism.
Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’
Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date: June 25, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Jerry is worried they’ll not be safe in Africa, so, to be sure, they change themselves into blackface. But immediately afterwards their plane crashes into the sea, as if the blackface took away their ability to fly! At sea Tom & Jerry are bothered by an equally blackfaced octopus, some sharks and a large whale, which throws them onto the African shore. There they encounter some fantasy monsters (recalling the Waffles & Don short ‘Jungle Jazz‘ from 1930), a gospel quartet of black skeletons, and finally. several cannibals, who chase them away. Iris out.
Unlike any other Van Beuren film, ‘Plane Dumb’ is extremely dialogue-rich. In fact, it’s quite possibly the most dialogue-rich cartoon of the early 1930s. As soon as they’re blackfaced, Tom & Jerry start to talk in fake negro speak. Of course, as the duo is heading to Africa, this makes no sense at all – it only adds to the ignorant racism that completely fills this short. Moreover, one soon forgets that these characters had been Tom & Jerry in the first place.
Tom & Jerry’s dialogue is very reminiscent of Amos ‘n’ Andy, the popular fake black radio stars of the time. The cartoon stars’ trite conversation was supposed to be the sole source of the humor in the cartoon, making ‘Plane Dumb’ the first animated cartoon ever to rely on dialogue. Rarely there was such a strange combination of innovation and backward thinking.
The dependence on dialogue makes the short a failure by all means, as none of it is remotely funny; not only by today’s standards, but also by those of 1932 itself, and the short only got a lukewarm welcome.
Nevertheless, in 1934 Van Beuren produced two cartoons featuring the “real” Amos ‘n’ Andy. Neither of the two were a success. Van Beuren might have known, if he had remembered ‘Plane Dumb’ well…
‘Plane Dumb’ arguably one of the most racist cartoon ever released. It’s so full of severe racial stereotypes, it’s practically unwatchable, today. Its only highlight may be in the animation of the whale, which has some menacing quality.
Watch ‘Plane Dumb’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Plane Dumb’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’
Director: Hugh Harman
Release Date: September 19, 1931
In the next scene Bosko is washed ashore a tropical island. When fleeing from a lion, Bosko enters a cannibal settlement. Luckily our hero can escape certain death by climbing on a rhino in a lake.
‘Bosko Shipwrecked!’ is hampered by long scenes, which are surprisingly low on gags. The animation, on the other hand, is fluent, and at times no less than outstanding, with the lion chase scene as a particular highlight. The film’s best gag is when out of the cooking pot a skeleton appears to shake hands with Bosko: “Come on in, the water is fine!“.
Watch ‘Bosko Shipwrecked!’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Bosko Shipwrecked!’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’
Director: Svend Noldan
Release Date: 1930
‘Hein Priembacke in Afrika’ is a silent film and uses German title cards in rhyme. Hein Priembacke is a sailor who’s washed ashore an African desert. Being hungry he first tries to retrieve a coconut, which turns out to be a wallaby. Later he goes to a settlement (which was visible in the background all the time), where he pulls two turnips, which turn out to be Negroes (forgive me the word – it’s used as such in the film itself). The angered cannibals soon chase our hero (“Jetzt wird’s bedenklich, lieber Christ. Der Neger ist kein Pazifist” reads the title card, which translates as “Now it becomes questionable, dear Christ, for the negro is no pacifist“), but he manages to escape to his homeland, hanging on the legs of a stork.
The animation is surprisingly well done, although the action is at times ridiculously slow. The film’s highlight are the animation of the waves and of the landscape on Priembacke’s flight back home. Done with cut outs, the landscape moves stunningly realistically under our hero, creating a great sense of depth, predating Disney’s multi-plane camera by seven years.
Indeed, special effects turned out to be Noldan’s expertise. His star rose when the National Socialists came to power in 1933, and many film makers left Germany. He later provided special effects for German propaganda films, like Leni Riefenstahl’s ‘Triumf des Willens’ (1935), and ‘Der ewige Jude’ (1939). During World War II he worked for the German war industry. Although his role in Nazi Germany is dubious to say the least, he survived the war unscathed, and returned to making films, which he kept on doing until the end of the 1960s.
Watch ‘Hein Priembacke in Afrika’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Hein Priembacke in Afrika’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’
Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date: July 6, 1930
Stars: Waffles and Don
‘Jungle Jazz’ features that unsung duo, Waffles and Don, introduced in three months earlier in ‘The Haunted Ship‘. This time we watch the tall cat and the small dog walking through a jungle.
In this cartoon the duo’s ‘personalities’ are well-established: Waffles is continually scared, while Don remains unimpressed. The film’s highlight is an early scene in which Waffles and Don encounter all kinds of bizarre, psychedelic animals. Waffles and Don hide from these in a cabin, where they find an organ, which Waffles starts to play immediately. This prompts the cartoon’s obligate dance routine, with all kinds of (normal African) animals dancing.
Then, suddenly, they’re surrounded by cannibals! Don even helps them lighting the fire under their cooking pot. But he also somehow manages to scare them away, and the last scene is for four animals forming a barbershop quartet.
‘Jungle Jazz’ is a loosely jointed and erratic short, and it’s a pity the animators didn’t elaborate on the psychedelic animals in the beginning of the cartoon.
Watch ‘Jungle Jazz’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Jungle Jazz’ is available on the DVDs ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’ and ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’
Director: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: July 7, 1951
Stars: Tom & Jerry
In what must be the film’s highlight Jerry fools him by pretending to be a cannibalistic native, but in the end both characters have to flee for real cannibals, the first human beings we see in their entirety in a Tom & Jerry film
‘His Mouse Friday’ must be one of the least inspired Tom & Jerry cartoons ever. Not only are the two completely out of place on the tropical island, the comedy feels tired, the humor is offensive, and the designs of our heroes mediocre. Tom’s designs in the opening scene are particularly sloppy. It seems that these designs inspired the Gene Deitch cartoons, because they look remarkably similar, which is no advertisement.
Unfortunately, ‘His Mouse Friday’ is no isolated incident. From mid-1951 on, we see the quality of the series gradually deteriorate: character designs get simpler and sloppier, backgrounds less lush, and stories more routine or uninspired. There were still some great Tom & Jerry cartoons to come, and even two Oscar winners, but one nonetheless gets the impression that by mid-1951 their heyday was over.
Watch ‘His Mouse Friday’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: David Hand
Release Date: January 19, 1935
Stars: Mickey Mouse
Like in ‘The Castaway‘ (1932), Mickey has been shipwrecked, and he’s washed ashore at a tropical island full of cannibals.
When the cannibals try to cook a young native, Mickey scares them away in order to rescue the poor fellow. He then adopts this young native and they build a fort together, which they finish just in time, before the cannibals return to attack them. These eventually manage to overrun Mickey’s defense, and Mickey and the native flee on a self made ‘ship’.
Even when compared to Disney’s two other embarrassing cartoons about cannibals (the Silly Symphony ‘Cannibal Capers‘ (1930) and ‘Trader Mickey‘ (1932, curiously also directed by David Hand), the depiction of natives in ‘Mickey’s Man Friday’ is backward and humiliating. Mickey’s man Friday uses his feet more than his hands and appears to be more closely related to apes than to man. This is so sickening to watch that this is one of the very rare cartoons of which I feel that they could have remained under the rug, despite the fast and clever ‘invention gags’ featured in this cartoon, which foreshadow comparable gags in ‘The Flintstones’.
Watch ‘Mickey’s Man Friday’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 72
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Two-Gun Mickey
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Band Concert
Director: David Hand
Release Date: August 20, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
The cannibals ruin Mickey’s trade, which consists mostly of musical instruments. When Mickey grabs a saxophone, he launches a long song-and-dance-routine, making the short old-fashioned when compared to contemporary Mickey Mouse cartoons like ‘Barnyard Olympics‘, ‘Mickey in Arabia‘ and ‘Mickey’s Nightmare’.
The cartoon is hampered further by severe and backward caricatures of African natives. They’re shown as extremely dumb, and halfway apes and humans. Among the offensive images are shots of cannibals playing instruments with their feet, and others of cannibals with gigantic duck-like lips. In any case practically all the gags originate in the cannibals’ ignorant use of Mickey’s trade, which make the film a tiresome watch today, despite its jolly atmosphere. The cannibals would also appear in Floyd Gottfredson’s contemporary Mickey Mouse strip, starting at August 17. The strip borrowed several images from the animated cartoon, including the fat king and his cook.
‘Trader Mickey’ was the first short directed by David Hand (1900-1986), who’d become Disney’s third director after Wilfred Jackson and Burt Gillett. Hand had joined the Disney studio as an animator in early 1930, just after the departure of Ub Iwerks. As a director he would create many wonderful shorts, like ‘The Mad Doctor‘ (1932) and ‘Who Killed Cock Robin‘ (1935). Then he advanced to features, directing ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937) and ‘Bambi‘ (1942). Hand would leave the Disney studio in July 1944 to set up his own studio in England.
Unfortunately, ‘Trader Mickey’ cannot be regarded a great start of Hand’s directing career. It’s a weak film, based on ingredients from the equally weak ‘Cannibal Capers‘ (1930) and ‘The Delivery Boy‘ (1931). Hand would nevertheless maintain a high standard in all his next films, the only other failures being ‘Mickey’s Man Friday‘ (unfortunately also starring cannibals) and ‘The Robber Kitten‘, both from 1935.
Watch ‘Trader Mickey’ yourself and tell me what you think:
*Goofy himself had just made his first appearance in ‘Mickey’s Revue‘ from three months earlier and there was not yet an indication that this character was here to stay, or that this laugh was exclusively his.
Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: March 15, 1930
The caricatures of the ‘primitive’ blacks are backward and quite extreme in this cartoon: the cannibals have such huge lips, they almost look like ducks(!). Nevertheless, the cartoon is less offensive than a later film like ‘Mickey’s Man Friday‘ (1935), because the cannibals at least look sympathetic (despite the skulls that lie everywhere), and are not compared to apes, like in the latter cartoon.
It also fairs better than the Betty Boop cartoon ‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re dead you Rascal You’ (1932), which also features cannibals, but here they’re linked to musicians of Louis Armstrong’s orchestra, making a direct connection between the racist caricatures and real Afro-Americans.
Cannibals were staple characters of cartoons from the thirties, but the caricatures managed to stay well into the fifties, being featured in shorts such as ‘His Mouse Friday‘ (Tom & Jerry, 1951), ‘Spare The Rod’ (Donald Duck, 1954) and ‘Boyhood Daze’ (Merrie Melodies, 1957).
‘Cannibal Capers’ is noteworthy, because it contains the only animation by Floyd Gottfredson that hit the screen: that of the lion running out of the jungle and of a cannibal beating the drum. Around the time this cartoon was released, Gottfredson was asked to take over the Mickey Mouse comic strip (then still written by Walt Disney himself), something he would do until 1975.
Watch ‘Cannibal Capers’ yourself and tell me what you think: