Private Snafu's title card.


Medium: Theatrical animation
Originally Produced by: Warner Bros.
First Appeared: 1942
Creators: Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and Phil Eastman
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During World War II, America's entire industrial might was geared toward winning the war — and so was its entertainment might. All of the major cartoon studios did contract work for the …

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… military. Warner Bros. produced, among others, a series of humorous training cartoons for the Navy, starring a character named Hook; at MGM, Tex Avery worked on a piece of anthropomorphic equipment called Bertie the Bomber. By far, the best-remembered of these military cartoon characters is the U.S. Army's Private Snafu.

The name "Snafu" is an acronym. For those with delicate ears, it stands for "Situation Normal — All Fouled Up". For the indelicate, a word other than "Fouled" is used. It has proved to be one of the more enduring examples of 1940s slang. Private Snafu has two brothers, Tarfu ("Things Are Really 'Fouled' Up") and Fubar ("'Fouled' Up Beyond All Recovery").

Theodor Geisel (who later became famous as Dr. Seuss) and Phil Eastman created Private Snafu as the personification of counter-productive behavior, to show servicemen what not to do. The majority of the 28 Snafu films were made at Warner Bros. under the direction of such luminaries as Chuck Jones (Road Runner, Pepe LePew), Friz Freleng (Speedy Gonzales, Yosemite Sam) and Bob Clampett (Tweety Bird, Beany & Cecil); but the Army spread the work among other studios as well.

Because the intended audience consisted entirely of male soldiers, it was possible for these training cartoons to go far beyond their general-release contemporaries, in terms of sexual innuendo and other adult fare. Very little of it would raise an eyebrow today, but in the 1940s, humorous advice on how to avoid giving information to sexy spies was quite risque. And when Jessica Rabbit used the pun "booby trap", she got a slight smile; but the same pun, when it was used as the title of a Private Snafu cartoon, might have brought on shocked outrage if seen by a general audience.


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Text ©2000-07 Donald D. Markstein. Art: Private Snafu is in the public domain. This image has been modified. Modified version © Donald D. Markstein.