Little Pancho Vanilla.

LITTLE PANCHO VANILLA

Original medium: Theatrical animation
Produced by: Warner Bros.
First Appeared: 1938
Creator: Frank Tashlin (director)
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In these sensitive times, there has been a certain amount of controversy over the stereotyped aspects of Speedy Gonzales — a heroic and resourceful character, all of whose important traits reflect nothing but credit on any group to which he may …

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… belong. And Little Pancho Vanilla, even more heavily stereotyped and lacking most of Speedy's particularly admirable attributes, was gone from the scene even before things started getting noticeably hot for guys like him.

Not that Pancho was an unacceptable representative of his ethnicity. His faults were those of little boys everywhere, and weren't all that fault-like in the first place. Pride and ambition may go together in making up hubris, but hubris on a small scale isn't very destructive except to pride itself. And in his one and only animated appearance (titled, simply, Little Pancho Vanilla) it turned out okay in the end anyway.

Pancho was a pudgy young resident of a Mexican village about to be visited by the dashing and romantic bullfighter Don José, and was seized by a desire to earn similar accolades for himself. Ridiculed and rejected for his ambition, he triumphed at last through the timely intervention of an improbable accident, and only Don José himself wound up looking foolish. The cartoon was directed by Frank Tashlin (The Fox & the Crow) and released by Warner Bros. on October 8, 1938.

That would have been all there ever was of Little Pancho Vanilla, if, almost a decade and a half later, Dell Comics hadn't gone hunting around for Warner properties to add to the back pages of the Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies comic book, where Bugs, Porky and so many others had first been transferred to that medium. For some reason, contemporary Warner cartoon characters such as Hubie & Bertie and Claude Cat didn't make the cut, so they reached all the way back to resurrect this one. Pancho's comic book series began in the 130th issue, dated August, 1952.

Here, Pancho was re-designed to be less chubby, built more like an average boy his age. His situation was also modified. The great bullfighter wasn't a visitor to the town, but his own father, who wore his occupational regalia all the time. Only he wasn't so great except in Pancho's eyes, but actually got very nervous about fighting bulls, which he wasn't really very good at. "Papacito" worked for the local money man, known only as "The Rich Ranchero".

Pancho's series was analogous to that of Tito & His Burrito, over at DC Comics. Both were Hispanic stereotypes, based on obscure old animated cartoons, used as filler in the back pages of anthology comic books. The biggest difference was, Tito occupied his slot from the beginning of Real Screen Comics to its end, 1945-61. The Looney Tunes comic book was cut from 52 pages to 36 as of #155 (September, 1954), squeezing out Little Pancho Vanilla. He was never seen again.

— DDM

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Text ©2007 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Warner Bros.