You may have seen these characters here and there, but even if you have, chances are you haven’t seen their entire cartoon catalog unless you’re an avid animation fan. Still, just because these characters are lesser known doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve your attention. So sit back and relax and enjoy learning a bit about a few characters that played a surprisingly big role in the history of animation.
You may not recognize his face and you probably didn’t watch many of his cartoons, but you’ve almost certainly seen Bosko’s face here and there and with good reason –he was one of the first early stars of the Looney Tunes and starred in over forty shorts. Animators Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising were working at Disney when they first drew up the character in a style they thought would suit the new “talkie” movement at the theater. In fact, when the first Bosko cartoon was released, it was the first animation to include synchronized speech.
If you’re trying to figure out what kind of critter Bosko is supposed to be, well, he’s a human. In fact, when the animators registered the character at the copyright office, they described him as a “Negro boy.”
While Bosko's designs may have been based on minstrel show portrayals of African Americans, many Bosko cartoons feature Bosko and his girlfriend Honey acting more like Mickey Mouse cartoons than racial caricatures, although the cartoons featured far more singing and dancing than a typical Disney cartoon. Interestingly, throughout the early 30’s Bosko rivaled Mickey in popularity and it wasn’t until later on that the mouse surged ahead.
At both the start and the end of their popularity, the characters seemed more like characters out of a minstrel show though, particularly after the redesign he was given when Harman and Ising moved the character to MGM in 1933.
A big part of the reason Bosko isn’t a cartoon icon in modern times is the fact that Warner Bros. tried to sweep the potentially racist Looney Tunes characters under the rug. In fact, when the characters were reintroduced to the public in a Tiny Toon Adventures cartoon, the are shown as dog-like creatures instead of their original form.
Here’s another face that probably looks familiar although you probably haven’t actually watched too many of his cartoons. Buddy was the second star of the Looney Tunes series and was born when Harman and Ising left Warner Bros. and took the company’s biggest cartoon star with them. It wasn’t long before producer Leon Schlesinger hired new animators, resulting in the birth of Buddy, who animator Bob Clampett fairly critiqued as “Bosko in whiteface.” Like Bosko, the Buddy cartoons largely focus on music and portray the character’s interactions with his girlfriend and his dog. Buddy starred in 23 cartoons, but he has been largely forgotten in modern years as he was mostly a knock off of Bosko, who wasn’t even that strong of a character to start with. Source
Foxy wasn’t around very long, but he has an interesting history in the Golden Age of Cartoons. The first thing you’ll likely notice about Foxy is that he looks a lot like Mickey Mouse. Well, that’s because while working for Disney in 1925, Hugh Harman claimed that he drew images of mice on a picture of Disney that then inspired Ub Iwerks and Disney’s creation of Mickey Mouse. Because Harman felt like Disney had capitalized on his design, he and his partner, Ising, thought it was only fair that they do the same to Disney.
Foxy was the first star of the popular Merrie Melodies series, but he only ended up appearing in a total of three cartoons. Before he left though, he started a Merrie Melodies tradition by bursting out of a bass drum and saying the line, “So long, folks!” That’s right, he held Porky’s famous position before Porky was even created.
After Ub Iwerks, co-creator of Mickey Mouse, had a falling out with Disney, he eventually started working with MGM. That’s when he created Flip the Frog, who may never have become as famous as Mickey, but he’s still undoubtedly a face you recognize.
While Flip seemed quite similar to many of Iwerks’ previous Silly Symphony creations, his first cartoon still has a place in animation history as it was the first ever color sound cartoon. While he was notably frogish in this first cartoon, he started becoming less froglike as time wore on, as MGM thought the series would do better with a more humanized character at the helm. Flip also started developing a distinct Charlie Chaplin-like personality as time wore on, making him easy to identify with during the Great Depression. Unfortunately, MGM grew tired of the character and had him discontinued by 1933, after that, the public largely forgot about the character.
While Bosko’s cartoons often seemed more about music and less about stereotypes, Inki cartoons, part of the Merrie Melodies series by Chuck Jokes, were basically animated minstrel shows about a little African boy with a loin cloth and a bone in his hair. Inki never speaks and most of his cartoon appearances featuring him hunting some sort of illusive prey.
These days, you’re unlikely to catch many Inki cartoons on television as the character is considered pretty racist, especially by today’s standards. The bird that often helped him out though, the mynah bird, has been featured in many of the WB’s modern cartoons, giving at least some recognition of the company’s heritage.
While these cartoons were never officially made available to the public, the series has been widely shared since they were always part of the public domain. That’s because they were created specifically for the U.S. government to help show Army trainees, particularly those with weak reading skills, the right and wrong way to behave in the service.
Many of the episodes were written by a then unknown artist and writer named Theodor Geisel –aka “Dr. Seuss.” The series was produced by Warner Bros. under the direction of Leon Schlesinger and featured the work of a number of famous animators including Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, and Frank Tashlin. As it turns out, these shorts are part of what kept the animation industry alive during the war –because they kept up morale and helped educate soldiers, the studios were considered an essential industry for supporting the war effort.
Private Snafu (a military anagram for Situation Normal: All F-ed Up) was sort of like the Goofy of the military. He always did things wrong, thus, showing recruits what not to do while at war. Throughout the series, he leaks classified information, gets malaria, catches an STD and manages to die in six different cartoons. Later on though, Snafu starts to catch on and actually becomes a savvy soldier ready to take down the enemy.
Because the cartoons were only to be released to soldiers, they weren’t subject to the Haye’s Code and as a result, they contained some rather racy material for cartoons of the time –including semi-nude ladies and curse words.