Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media
Banned Cartoons
Buy at Banned-Cartoons | Review by Sinferno

Every once in a great while I receive a product in the mail that is a new kind of troubling. And keep in mind I have seen so much cinematic rape, violence, murder, death, torture and even a few Madonna movies in my day so I should be beyond any feelings of actual abject horror like the rest of you mere mortals who still have eyelids to clench. BANNED CARTOONS is a collection of animated shorts, much like the kind you saw before a major motion picture in the 60's or at home, on the afternoon cartoon shows that overplayed them and still recycle them to this day. Well, some of these cartoons are rife with the racism, stereotypical portrayals of minorities and antiquated attitudes toward women that were pretty much the standard of life of their day which makes them hard to watch, and perhaps yet, even harder to see as they have all been pulled from broadcast rotation.

Many of the featured animated shorts on BANNED are from a myriad of well-known studios and include their copyrighted characters, many of whom still survive to this day. We have: Popeye the sailor man from King Features Syndicate beating up an entire ship full of sneaky, bucktoothed, bespectacled Japanese soldiers; we have a Warner Brothers cartoon where Bugs Bunny outwits a dim-witted African American boy; and, we have some Disney shorts which would make even an Anti-Semite like old Walt himself spin in his grave. There are twenty-five hours worth of content here, which is more than a day of solid, non-stop viewing. Obviously, I am not going to provide my usual commentary for each different toon, but here is a synopsis of the three categories they fall under.

Wartoons: Cartoons made during World War II which portray our enemies abroad as evil, ethnic-looking and (lucky for us) borderline retarded. These are filled with latent pro-war propaganda such as buying savings bonds, rationing and conserving resources. "Was this trip really necessary?" and "V for Victory" are something of a mantra in these works.

Unethic but Ethnic: These portray the worst possible racial stereotypes from the days of segregation and even before. Black families are represented almost entirely of the following archetypes: the child or piccaninny, the mother or "Mammy" figure from GONE WITH THE WIND and the various male black-faced patriarch who looks like one of the regulars from Amos and Andy (who, oddly enough, are also included on the disks in their own series of cartoons). There are also some really unique cartoons featuring Native Americans, one of which seeks to retell the whole incident where the white man stole the land from our Native American ancestors as a four-minute short featuring Porky Pig claiming the nation from that awful villain Injun Joe. The shot at the the end of the cartoon where Indian lands are wiped from the very map of the United States in a comedic fashion really made me blink, and up until now I had thought I had seen everything. Seriously, there are times you will have to rewind to be sure you saw what you think you did. Like the time Mighty Mouse saved a runaway slave woman carrying a small baby running away from a plantation owner who was chasing her with dogs and pistols. Mighty does eventually succeed in beating the evil man up and "saving her" by scooping her up and putting her back on the plantation at the end of the cartoon, back to the place where she belonged. Make up your own snappy comment here. For once, I suddenly can't think of anything else to say.

G.I. Jokes: A few Private Snafu cartoons are included as well which were meant to be shown only to military personnel. Both instructional and entertaining they were meant to warn G.I.s about the joys and tribulations of military life, many of them featuring off-color language that never would have played well in the kid-infested matinees of the day. These aren't too bad. In fact while they were admittedly kind of stiff, full of propaganda and voiced by Mel Blanc (Private Snafu sounds exactly like his Bugs Bunny) I couldn't think of any short animated feature I would rather see just before being sent on a perilous suicide mission bombing run over Berlin (except for maybe "B-17" from HEAVY METAL).

The man who created this set has complied it from various sources all over the web, from archives and places where old cartoons go to die – the result is the most exhaustive collection I have ever seen. The infamous Banned 11 are present, cartoons which are forbidden from being shown on American broadcast for any reason whatsoever, plus over 150 more, spread out over 8 DVDs. And while the set isn't exactly attractively packaged, (the disks themselves were labeled with magic marker and a home printer label loosely set into a plastic box) one thing I have discovered about ordering historical archives is many times the real truth doesn't come in neat, attractive mass produced boxes from the History channel.

The quality of these cartoons, some a half-century old, are occasionally spotty, scribbly, sometimes all but illegible for a few seconds, but I couldn't find better copies anywhere on the web, and trust me I looked. If you are expecting the exact picture quality of an animated collection that has been restored, recolored or redone you are going to be sorely disappointed. These cartoons represent a regrettable period of outmoded beliefs, attitudes and cultural depictions that the major studios will understandably neither revisit nor restore, potentially rendering them of higher visual quality and perhaps even more offensive. So if you are holding out for digital remastering this set is not for you. Just let it be said that if you bought the various COMPLETE animated collections of cartoons from your favorite studios, don't be surprised if there are many titles here which mysteriously were omitted from their own perfect studio-approved glossy-boxed anthologies.

And now the tricky part, to talk about what makes this set something special, without giving it away. There is a cartoon on disk 9, (the bonus disk) which is to a certain studio what the STAR WARS CHRISTMAS SPECIAL was to Lucasfilm, and by that I mean such a unspeakable blight that the original is sealed up forever in the corporation's vault and it's very existence is all but denied. This film has never been released on home video in the US and I have spent my life trying to find a decent copy, just to see it and add it to my pile of rare and really controversial movies. I would love to tell you what it is, but for obvious reasons it must remain as an unlisted item which I cannot altogether name; a bonus feature to trump all bonus features. Besides, if you have searched for a copy of this title as long as I have, there shouldn't be any reason why you haven't figured it out already. Think hard and read carefully and you just might just remember. At the very least it's the most awesome unnamed hidden content I have ever seen in a boxed set.

And this is pretty much the crux of the collection, what it lacks in spit and polish it more than makes up for in historical relevance as well as cultural atrocity. What many people don't realize is that every generation confiscates cartoon heroes which portray an outdated, perchance offensive view of a group or people. Speedy Gonzalez cartoons were recently banned because they portray portray Mexican culture in a negative light, and Pep'e Lepeau cartoons have also been similarly retired because they apparently show all Frenchies as smooth talking skunks who apparently try to fuck house cats. If this trend of "Whitewashing" classic animation currently continues, don't be surprised if one day fifty years from now the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetlion is removed from all Simpson episodes because his character offends Indian (Hindu) people, portraying them all as crooked convenience store owners who openly trick and deceive their customers with inflated prices and poor unsanitary, unhealthy products. These cartoons should be discussed, not just here in a review, but by peoples of whatever race so we can own our own role in history and admit while hateful ethnic portrayals are a sin against the very potential of humankind, censorship for any reason is never a progressive way to handle media products which are ALWAYS merely a reflection of the times in which they were created, not the cause of attitudes themselves.

Sinferno Says...
Yucko/Neato Factor: There is no other set like this in existence. While many of the cartoons themselves are available online from this place or that (even the one on disk 9) getting these together on nine disks and with selectable menus is the best you will do if you like this stuff. Seriously, this set is so unique it struggles to fit into the usual criterion, defying description.
Production Values: Simply awful. Even while the source material is as good as you can expect over half a century later, box graphics and labeling of the disk itself was the most lacking I have ever seen.
Realism: Bizarre question, barely applicable, to ponder the realism of Bugs Bunny and other anthropomorphic animals who frolic, dance about and beat each other with hammers. I will say though that logic would dictate that if there wasn't something terribly relevant about these, someone, somewhere wouldn't have decided that you shouldn't be seeing them. Hmm. Let's give a three just to "keep the powers that be" uneasy.
Value for Price: At $49.95 you will get a boxed set that will not only educate your children about the racial inequities of our past, but you will have some kick ass authentic war cartoons to show your buddies before your home screening of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. How many boxed sets can accent both social education and antisocial annihilation so well?
Plot: As this is a compilation set this criterion is not applicable but it does tell a tale; a chapter in a story we as diverse Americans are still writing. Read between the lines of the animation and decide how it ends for everyone (hopefully it will be an outcome we all will want to show to our grand-kids like so many mere FCC-approved cartoons).


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