Your Daily Short: 'Private SNAFU' (1944)

Welcome to Your Daily Short, a new feature on that will highlight and stream a short film at high noon. Every weekday. Every week.

TODAY’S SHORT: “Private SNAFU” (Bob Clampett) 1944


WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH IT: Bob Clampett’s star has faded a bit over the years. Yesterday was his 100th birthday, and no Google Doodle!

I kid, of course, and Saul Bass’s birthday is also totally worth the celebrating. But what happened with Clampett? He was one of Warner Bros.’ lead animators in the 1940s, and directed 84 cartoons during his fifteen years with the studio. He created Porky Pig and Tweety, and made some of the best Looney Tunes. He left Warner in 1946 at his peak, presumably over matters of artistic freedom. In later years he would cause controversy by claiming (very falsely) Bugs Bunny was his creation alone, and his legacy brushes uncomfortably up against that of Chuck Jones.

That’s a downer. Instead let’s talk about Clampett’s style, a surreal and boisterous flair that helped Warner’s brand come into its own. His masterwork might be Porky in Wackyland, which you should track down (it isn’t on YouTube, unfortunately). Yet you can see his trademark anarchic sense of humor in the non-commercial work he did for the US Army as well.  Animators were brought in by the armed forces to make instructional videos during World War Two, and some of them are surprisingly ridiculous. Here’s Clampett’s Private SNAFU cartoon, in which the bad-example character has some trouble with Booby Traps.

It’s absurd, of course, and one wonders what the take-away is for the GIs watching. Avoid Moroccan brothels? Don’t play the piano because it might be rigged with a bomb? Don’t milk camels? Clampett’s legacy is his comedy, and the crazy lengths he was willing to stretch the internal logic of his cartoons to get those laughs.

Watch the previous Daily Short: “Thrush” 

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