Private Snafu

Posted in WB Cartoon Companion on March 22, 2004

    Character created by the Warner Brothers cartoon studio for The Army-Navy Screen Magazine series produced by Frank Capra during World War II. The name “Snafu” is a play on the soldiers acronym for “Situation Normal All Fouled/F***ed Up”. Private Snafu was a soldier who rarely, if ever, did anything right. His mistakes were used to get across serious points in a humorous way. Some of the Snafu shorts were written by Ted Geisel (“Dr. Seuss”). W. Munro Leaf, who was in the Army at that time, is known to have collaborated with Geisel on at least one Snafu short.

    Standards were a bit looser for the Snafu shorts than they were for theatrical releases. Due to their target audience, cheesecake shots such as the pinup used to hatch pigeon eggs in The Three Brothers (Freleng, 1944) and the sexy Nazi spy in Spies (Jones, 1943) were used. Risqué humor and dialogue, including occasional four-letter words like “damn” and “hell” were also allowed. Other than that, the cartoons had some similarities to the normal Warner Brothers shorts, to the extent of using the same artists, Carl Stalling’s scores, and Mel Blanc. Robert Bruce, as usual, did narration and a few of the voices, notably for Outpost (Jones, 1944) and The Chow Hound (Tashlin, 1944).

    Not all of the Private Snafu shorts were made at Warners, though most of them were. The forerunner of UPA produced a few Snafu shorts as well. Toward the end of the war, the Tex Avery unit at MGM was working on one short, Mop Up (also known as How to Get a Fat Jap out of a Cave) when production was terminated by the end of hostilities.

    Animation from one Snafu short, Target: Snafu (Freleng, 1944) was re-used in a later Freleng theatrical short, Of Thee I Sting (1946). The gag using the misplaying of “Those Endearing Young Charms” on a booby-trapped piano, followed by the correct playing with disastrous consequences, was first used in Booby Traps (Clampett, 1944), years before Freleng would use it yet again in Ballot Box Bunny (1951) and Show Biz Bugs (1957).

    Snafu had a naval counterpart, Hook, a few films of which have recently been discovered. He makes one appearance in a theatrical cartoon: as the soldier giving the horse a rubdown in The Draft Horse (Jones, 1942).

    Private Snafu filmography:

        Coming Snafu (Jones, 1943)
        Gripes (Freleng, 1943)
        Spies (Jones, 1943)
        The Goldbrick (Tashlin, 1943)
        The Infantry Blue (Jones, 1943)
        Fighting Tools (Clampett, 1943)
        The Home Front (Tashlin, 1943)
        Rumors (Freleng, 1943)
        Booby Traps (Clampett, 1944)
        Snafuperman (Freleng, 1944)
        Private Snafu vs. Malaria Mike (Jones, 1944)
        A Lecture on Camouflage (Jones, 1944)
        Gas (Jones, 1944)
        The Chow Hound (Tashlin, 1944)
        Censored (Tashlin, 1944)
        Outpost (Jones, 1944)
        Pay Day (Freleng, 1944)
        Target Snafu (Freleng, 1944)
        The Three Brothers (Freleng, 1944)
        In the Aleutians (Jones, 1945)
        It’s Murder She Says (Jones, 1945)
        Hot Spot (Freleng, 1945)
        Operation Snafu (Freleng, 1945)
        No Buddy Atoll (Jones, 1945)
        Coming Home (Jones, not released)
        Secrets of the Caribbean (Jones, not released)

    A survey written by the author about Snafu and Hook, providing more detail as to the individual cartoons and their production, can be found in Issue #37 of Animato! magazine.

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• The Warner Brothers Cartoon Companion is © (copyright) 1996 E. O. Costello. All rights reserved.

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