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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Banned Cartoons
Banned Cartoons
Echelon Studios // Unrated // April 18, 2008
List Price: $9.98 [Buy now and save at Singahe]
Review by John Sinnott | posted May 6, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The Cartoons:

I enjoy animation. A lot. From Walt Disney's beautifully rendered Technicolor shorts to the wackiness of Looney Toons to the creativity of Anime and even some of the absurd Saturday morning fare like The Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa, I'll watch just about anything. With many of the majors putting out their classic cartoons on DVD, the topic of racist cartoons often crops up. In the 30's and 40's, things were very different in America, and cartoons were sometimes brutally insensitive to minorities. Over the years, various studios have taken these cartoons out of circulation and they've somehow become known as "banned" films. (Not that anyone ever actually banned them...they just didn't distribute them.) The most famous examples of this are the near-mythic "Censored Eleven" from Warner Brothers, nearly a dozen shorts that WB won't release due to the racist content. Unfortunately, none of those cartoons are presented in this collection.

Despite the labels, many of these films have been available on VHS and later DVD in often poor quality transfers. Now another disc has been released with cartoons that, according to the back cover copy, "were not allowed - in theaters or laters, (sic) on TV." Simply entitled Banned Cartoons, this collection features seven public domain cartoons that are a product of the times they were made. With ridiculous stereotypes that are patently offensive, these animated shorts are unfortunately part of American history, and as such should be available to be seen. It's just too bad that this collection doesn't present the cartoons with better images and sound. As it is, the quality is pretty mediocre at best.

The contents:

Little Black Sambo: One of the more famous 'banned' cartons this is loosely based on the book of the same name. (Which was one of my favorite books as a small child. I was astounded when I heard that it was supposed to be racist, since Sambo is very smart and resourceful and ends up outwitting the tigers. But I digress...) Made by ex-Disney animator Ub Iwerks' studio this film has Mammy giving Sambo a bath followed by patting him down with black baby powder and then telling him to go out and play but to be wary of the Tiger since he "sure do like dark meat." Naturally, Sambo does encounter the tiger and comically evades his attacks.

Ha! Ha! Ha!: This is one of my favorite Betty Boop Cartoons. It's strange and weird and has all of the creativity and bizarre antics that make cartoons so much fun. When Koko the Clown has a tooth-ache, Betty decides to take care of it herself. She administers some laughing gas, but doses herself in the process. Leaving the gas on, the nitrous oxide fills not only the room, but manages to come off of the animation paper to fill the real life set of the animator's studio. It then flies out the open window and filling New York City making everyone happy and filled with laughter. That includes not only real people, but real typewriters, mail boxes, a bridge and some rather spooky headstones. I suppose the banned status comes from "drug use" but whatever the case this is one fun and outrageous short.

Opening Night: This pre-code Van Beuren cartoon stars Cubby Bear. On Christmas Eve (I'm not sure why they show Santa at the beginning...the rest of the show does not have a holiday theme) the young bear tries to get into a theater to see the opera but isn't allowed. He manages to find his way into the control room and from there falls into the orchestra pit where he starts to conduct. Typical of these Van Beuren cartoons the whole short is just music and sound effects without any actual dialog. The objectionable part occurs in the opera itself. During a sword fight one antagonist has his head cut off (without blood) and replaces it with a round flower pot. The hero then leaps to the Diva and bounces on her breasts twice before landing on the ground. Decidedly odd, but not really objectionable.

Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat: One of the best cartoons in this set, it's also one of the most racist. Set in Lazy Town, the all black population does nothing but sleep until a riverboat docks. When an attractive (and notably light-skinned) woman disembarks she starts singing the title tune and infects the sleepy burg with rhythm. Soon everyone is singing, dancing, and even (*gasp*) doing their work!

The images in this cartoon are some of the most overtly racist that are to be scene on this disc, but the song is very catchy.

Christmas Night: This is a fun little cartoon featuring Otto Soglow's comic strip character, The Little King. He was a silent character who ruled a country yet would have preferred to live the simple life that his subjects enjoyed. In this short it's Christmas Eve and the King notices two homeless men admiring an elaborate display in a storefront window. He stops his carriage and stares at the magical Christmas display too. Soon the three are great buddies and the King invites his new friends back to the castle for Christmas. Once there they all take a bath together (!) and then hang up their stockings. In the morning they find that Santa has visited them and have a wonderful time playing with their new toys.

This was a cute, simple cartoon that was a lot of fun. It succeeds in capturing that magical feeling that Christmas always has for children. As far as the objectionable aspect to the movie, the only thing was a short section where a black-faced minstrel doll does a dance for the trio who are looking in at the Christmas display.

In a Cartoon Studio: I have no idea why this short is included in this collection of 'banned' cartoons. There's nothing objectionable in the least. In any case it's an amusing cartoon that is a parody of cartoons themselves. A young lady wants to know how animated shorts are produced, and gets a tour of a studio. It's set up like a production line, where one artist draws only the feet, another the hands, etc. When the cartoon is done, it's screened for an all-animal audience who love it. A cute look at the movies, but nothing shocking or offensive.

Easy Does It: The last cartoon is also the worst. I was surprised when the first title card proclaimed "Stokley Van Camp presents. What's a canned food company doing making a cartoon? Well I soon found out. The story concerns an old man who owns a store that's on the verge of bankruptcy. He sells only UK brand canned good, and business hasn't been good. The evil owner of UK Foods starts putting the moves on the old man's attractive daughter and promises to pay his debts if she'll marry him. Things are looking bad until 'Easy Does It', a small man who wears a Van Camp logo on his chest, takes the stock boy on a trip through time and space to see how Van Camp uses only the best products in their food. The man switches brands, and his store is saved.

This cartoon runs 22 minutes long, just an extended corporate commercial, and that's the reason it hasn't been seen more often. The wolf that leers after the young woman may be considered objectionable by some, but worse has happened in many Looney Toons shorts that are in circulation. It's also pretty dull for the most part.

The DVD:


I received a DVD-R test disc of this DVD, but it had cover art and a menu and looks like it might be identical to the final product. If the retail version does show up, I'll amend this review if it is significantly different.

Video:

The back cover of this disc promises "fully restored and sound enhanced" cartoons, but that didn't seem to be the case. The quality of these full frame cartoons, both black and white and in color, range from poor to mediocre. The images for all of the cartoons are soft, and detail is fair at best. The color cartoons, especially Easy Does It, have a lot of color bleeding. The prints that these were transferred from have scratches, dirt, lines, and the occasional missing frame. This looks about how you'd expect a 60 year old public domain cartoons to look.

Audio:

The two channel mono audio fares a little better. Some of the audio tracks are a little muddled, but not too much. There is background noise in some of the tracks and the occasional pop isn't surprising. None of the cartoons are hard to listen to however.

Extras: There aren't any bonus items. The back of the case says that these cartoons are by "a full description of why they were banned and accompanied by the key laws and resolutions kept the screen safe for America." (sic) I would have been interested to see which laws the US government passed banning these cartoons (not that there haven't been such laws... the Alien and Sedition Acts came to mind) but this information wasn't included in the copy I reviewed.

Final Thoughts:

These are a nice bunch of cartoons, even if the "banned" claim is stretching it a bit. Many of them are racists and objectionable, but most of them are pretty mild. Unfortunately the video quality isn't anything special, and actually pretty poor in some cases, making this better for a rental than purchase.

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