30 August 2014
1. L'il Eightball (Walter Lantz Productions)
Fortunately, very few people are even aware that this poor little fellow even existed. Created by Walter Lantz (the animation pioneer that gave the world Woody Woodpecker), he appeared in only 3 shorts produced in 1939, and didn't make the final cut on the Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection DVDs released by Universal Studios in 2007...go figure.
2. The Frito Bandito (Foote, Cone & Belding/Tex Avery)
Created by an advertising agency and animation legend TexAvery, The Frito Bandito made his debut as the TV spokesperson (spokescartoon?) for Frito-Lay in 1967. With his broken English accent (voiced by Mel Blanc) and wide sombrero he would cheerfully rob viewers of their Fritos Corn Chips, in an apparent reference to the stereotypical Mexican pistolero from Western movies.
Objections to the character were heard almost immediately, from advocacy groups like the National Mexican-American Anti-Defamation Committee. While advertisers (even in the 1960's) typically tried to avoid alienating potential consumers, Frito-Lay took the position that the protesters were simply a publicity-seeking minority, and for a time refused to remove the character from its advertising. Nevertheless, by 1971 the persistent negative attention became too much to overcome, and the Bandito was permanently retired.
3. & 4. Joe Jitsu & Go-Go Gomez (UPA)
Overshadowed by the larger animation studios like Warner Brothers and Disney, United Productions of America (UPA) nonetheless exerted a huge influence on the animation industry during its existence. Many of its innovations and techniques, particularly in terms of content, were adopted by animators and filmakers all over the world.
Sadly, however...they also gave us these guys.
Joe Jitsu and Go-Go Gomez were among several characters created for The Dick Tracy Show, an animated TV series produced by UPA from 1961 to 1962 that was loosely based on the popular comic strip detective.
An apparent parody of movie gumshoe Charlie Chan (though it was never made clear if the character was Chinese or Japanese), Joe Jitsu came equipped with a veritable Mulligan's Stew of Asian cultural stereotypes: short stature, slanted eyes, thick glasses, mastery of martial arts, and excessive politeness to compliment his bad English ("so solly" "excuse preese").
Not that Manuel Tijuana Guadalajara Tampico "Go-Go" Gomez was any better, essentially a human, dull-witted variation of Warner Brothers' Speedy Gonzales character.
The Dick Tracy Show managed to occasionally show up in syndication through the 1980's, but has not been seen on TV since, due in no small part to the anachronistic characterizations of Asian and Latin culture depicted by this ridiculous pair.
5. Inki (Warner Bros.)
Inki was the central character in a 5-cartoon series of Warner Brothers shorts created and produced by animation giant Chuck Jones between 1939 and 1950.
Ostensibly a speechless little boy (drawn in the pickaninny style) living in a jungle somewhere on the African continent, the basic premise of the series revolved around Inki on a hunting expedition in the jungle, while he himself was being stalked by a hungry lion.
Curiously, In his book Chuck Amuck: The Life And Times Of An Animated Cartoonist, Jones recounts the genesis of many of his best-known cartoon creations (Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner, Pepe Le Pew, Daffy Duck), but Inki is only mentioned in a year-by-year chronology of cartoons he produced. Maybe it was too difficult explaining why a cartoon character that would be considered objectionable in the 1990's was "okay" in the 1940's?
6. Bosko (Hugh Harman & Rudolf Ising)
In 1927 animators Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising were working for the Walt Disney Studios when Harman created a creature called Bosko to capitalize on the "talkie" craze that was revolutionizing the motion picture industry. When he registered drawings of the character with the Copyright Office in 1928, he described Bosko as a "Negro boy".
Although Harman and Ising initially based Bosko's appearance on Felix The Cat, his personality and looks were influenced by the blackface characters in minstrel and vaudeville shows, which were still popular in the 1920's. In keeping with the stereotypes of the minstrel shows, Bosko is shown to be a natural-born performer; in his very first cartoon short, he and his girlfriend Honey even speak in an exaggerated version of "black" dialect.
In spite of the obvious parallels between Bosko and the blackface performers, Ising insisted for years that the character was never intended to be a black caricature. This seems unlikely, inasmuch as the character, while an unacceptable stereotype today, was not considered insulting by the standards of the time.