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Private Snafu

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Private Snafu
Opening card
Directed byChuck Jones
Friz Freleng
Bob Clampett
Frank Tashlin
George Gordon
Written byTheodor Geisel
Phil Eastman
Munro Leaf
Produced byLeon Schlesinger
StarringMel Blanc
Music byCarl Stalling
Distributed byUS Army
Release date
June 28, 1943 – 1946
Running time
4 minutes
CountryUnited States

Private Snafu is the title character of a series of black-and-white American instructional adult animated shorts, ironic and humorous in tone, that were produced between 1943 and 1945 during World War II. The films were designed to instruct service personnel about security, proper sanitation habits, booby traps and other military subjects, and to improve troop morale. Primarily, they demonstrate the negative consequences of doing things wrong. The main character's name is a play on the military slang acronym SNAFU, "Situation Normal: All Fucked Up". (The cleaned-up version of that phrase, usually used on radio and in print, was "Situation Normal: All Fouled Up".)

The series was directed by Chuck Jones and other prominent Hollywood animators, and the voice of Private Snafu was performed by Mel Blanc.


Coming!! SNAFU, the first episode introducing Private Snafu, directed by Chuck Jones, 1943.

The character was created by director Frank Capra, chairman of the U.S. Army Air Force First Motion Picture Unit, and most shorts were written by Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel, Philip D. Eastman, and Munro Leaf.[1] Although the United States Army gave Walt Disney the first crack at creating the cartoons, Leon Schlesinger of the Warner Bros. animation studio underbid Disney by two-thirds and won the contract. Disney had also demanded exclusive ownership of the character and merchandising rights.

The goal was to help enlisted men with weak literacy skills learn through animated cartoons (and also supplementary comic books). They featured simple language, racy illustrations, mild profanity, and subtle moralizing. Private Snafu did (almost) everything wrong, so that his negative example taught basic lessons about secrecy, disease prevention, and proper military protocols.[1]

Private Snafu cartoons were a military secret—for the armed forces only. Surveys to ascertain the soldiers' film favorites showed that the Snafu cartoons usually rated highest or second highest. Each cartoon was produced in six weeks.[2] The shorts were classified government documents. Martha Sigall, employed at the ink and paint department, recalled the government security measures imposed on the staff working on them. They had to be fingerprinted and given FBI security clearances; they also had to wear identification badges at work.[3] Workers at the ink and paint department were given only ten cels at a time in an effort to prevent them from figuring out the story content.[3]

The name "Private Snafu" comes from the unofficial military acronym SNAFU ("Situation Normal: All Fucked Up"), with the opening narrator in the first cartoon merely hinting at its usual meaning as "Situation Normal, ... All Fouled Up!"[4]


Private Snafu, Spies, complete short
Technical Fairy, First Class, transforms Private Snafu into Snafuperman.
Home Front, directed by Frank Tashlin in 1943.

The shorts did not have to be submitted for approval at the Production Code Administration and so were not subject to the Motion Picture Production Code.[5] Most of the Private Snafu shorts are educational, and although the War Department had to approve the storyboards, the Warner directors were allowed great latitude in order to keep the cartoons entertaining. Through his irresponsible behavior, Snafu demonstrates to soldiers what not to do while at war. In Private Snafu vs. Malaria Mike, for example, Snafu neglects to take his malaria medications or to use his repellent, allowing a suave mosquito to get him in the end—literally. In Gas Snafu throws away his gas mask and is almost killed by poison gas. In Spies, Snafu leaks classified information a little at a time until the Axis enemies piece it together, ambush his transport ship, and literally blow him to hell. Six of Snafu's shorts actually end with him being killed due to his stupidity: Spies (blown up by enemy submarine torpedoes), Booby Traps (blown up by a bomb hidden inside a piano), The Goldbrick (run over by an enemy tank), A Lecture on Camouflage (large enemy bomb lands on him), Private Snafu vs. Malaria Mike (malaria), and Going Home (run over by a street car).

Nine of the Snafu shorts feature a character named Technical Fairy, First Class. The Technical Fairy is a crass, unshaven, cigar-smoking miniature G.I. whose fairy wings bear the insignia of a technical sergeant, and who wears only socks, shorts, and a uniform hat. When he appears, he grants Snafu's wishes, most of which involve skipping protocol or trying to do things the quick and sloppy way. The results typically end in disaster, with the Technical Fairy teaching Snafu a valuable lesson about proper military procedure. For example, in the 1944 cartoon Snafuperman, the Technical Fairy transforms Private Snafu into the superhero Snafuperman, who takes bungling to a super-powered level through his carelessness.[6]

Later in the war, however, Snafu's antics became more like those of fellow Warner character Bugs Bunny, a savvy hero facing the enemy head-on. The cartoons were intended for an audience of soldiers (as part of the bi-weekly Army-Navy Screen Magazine newsreel), and so are quite risqué by 1940s standards, with minor cursing, bare-bottomed GIs, and plenty of scantily clad (and even semi-nude) women.[7] The depictions of Japanese and Germans are hostile-comic, par for the course in wartime U.S.

Fighting Tools, directed by Bob Clampett in 1943.

The Snafu shorts are notable because they were produced during the Golden Age of Warner Bros. animation. Directors such as Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, and Frank Tashlin worked on them, and their characteristic styles are in top form. P. D. Eastman was a writer and storyboard artist for the Snafu shorts. Voice characterizations were provided by the celebrated Mel Blanc (Private Snafu's voice was similar to Blanc's Bugs Bunny characterization, and Bugs himself actually made cameos in the Snafu episodes Gas and Three Brothers).[8] Toward the end of the war, other studios began producing Snafu shorts as well (the Army accused Schlesinger of padding his bills), though these were never filmed before the war ended. The Snafu films are also partly responsible for keeping the animation studios open during the war—by producing such training films, the studios were declared an essential industry.

The character has since made a couple of brief cameos: the Animaniacs episode "Boot Camping" has a character looking very much like Private Snafu, and the Futurama episode "I Dated a Robot" shows Private Snafu on the building-mounted video screen for a few seconds in the opening credits.

Gas, 1944
Operation Snafu, directed by Friz Freleng in 1945.

While Private Snafu was never officially a theatrical cartoon character when the series was launched in 1943 (with the debut short Coming! Snafu, directed by Chuck Jones), a proto-Snafu does appear, unnamed and in color, in Jones' cartoon The Draft Horse, released theatrically one year earlier, on May 9, 1942. This appearance would serve as the basis for Snafu's character in the series.

The 24th film of the series, Going Home, produced in 1945, was never released. The premise is what damage could be done if a soldier on leave talks too much about his unit's military operations. In the film, Snafu discusses a "secret weapon" with his girlfriend which was unnervingly (and unintentionally) similar to the atomic bombs under development.

In 1945, a series of cartoons for the Navy featuring Private Snafu's brother "Seaman Tarfu" (for "Things Are Really Fucked Up") was planned, but only one was produced before the war came to a close: Private Snafu Presents Seaman Tarfu in the Navy.[9]


As now-declassified work of the United States government, all Private Snafu shorts are in the public domain and are thus freely available in numerous places, including on YouTube and Internet Archive.

Warner Home Video has begun including Private Snafu shorts as bonus material on their Looney Tunes Golden Collection. Other commercial DVDs are available from Thunderbean Animation, who released a DVD containing all the Snafu cartoons entitled Private Snafu Golden Classics,[10][11] and Bosko Video. The Private Snafu shorts were released on Blu-ray on November 19, 2015 by Thunderbean.[12]

At least one of the Private Snafu shorts was used as an exhibit piece: the short Spies was used for the World War II exhibit at the International Spy Museum.

Impact on children's literature[edit]

According to a postwar study of the Snafu cartoons, the wartime experiences of authors Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Philip D. Eastman, and Munro Leaf shaped their successful postwar children's books, especially the use of simple language, and some of the themes. Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat (1957) because Geisel believed the widely used Dick and Jane primers were too boring to encourage children to read. Geisel, Eastman, and Leaf authored books designed to promote personal responsibility, conservation, and respect for multiculturalism. Some racial characterisations are considered questionable today. Geisel's characters were often portrayed as rebels who displayed independence of mind. Eastman's characters, on the other hand, typically embraced the wisdom of authority figures. Leaf's heroes were in between, and seemed more ambiguous toward independence and authority.[1]


Private Snafu[edit]

Note: All shorts were created by Warner Bros. Cartoons for the U.S. War Department unless otherwise noted. The films, being produced for the U.S. government, are in the public domain.

Title Director Release date Video Notes
Coming!! Snafu Chuck Jones June 28, 1943 Pilot for Private Snafu.[13]
Narrated by Frank Graham.[14]
Gripes Friz Freleng July 5, 1943 All voices are provided by Mel Blanc.[15]
Spies Chuck Jones August 9, 1943
The Goldbrick Frank Tashlin September 13, 1943
The Infantry Blues Chuck Jones September 20, 1943
Fighting Tools Bob Clampett October 18, 1943 Cameo of Daffy Duck as Father Duck.
A briefly seen newspaper sub-headline reads "Adolph Hitler Commits Suicide", an event that would not become a reality until 18 months after this short premiered.
The Home Front Frank Tashlin November 15, 1943 Some versions of this short exist where the line at the beginning, "It's so cold, it could freeze the nuts off a jeep" was cut.
Rumors Friz Freleng December 13, 1943
Booby Traps Bob Clampett January 10, 1944 First appearance of the "Endearing Young Charms" musical bomb gag, which would be reused in two Bugs Bunny shorts ("Ballot Box Bunny" and "Show Biz Bugs"), one Wile E.Coyote/Road Runner short ("Rushing Roulette"), and in Animaniacs ("Slappy Goes Walnuts").
Snafuperman Friz Freleng March 6, 1944
Private Snafu vs. Malaria Mike Chuck Jones March 27, 1944
A Lecture on Camouflage Chuck Jones April 24, 1944
Gas Chuck Jones May 29, 1944 Bugs Bunny makes a cameo appearance, having been pulled from Snafu's gas mask bag.
The Chow Hound Friz Freleng June 19, 1944
Censored Frank Tashlin July 17, 1944
Outpost Chuck Jones August 1, 1944
Pay Day Friz Freleng September 25, 1944
Target: Snafu Frank Tashlin October 23, 1944
Three Brothers Friz Freleng December 4, 1944 Bugs Bunny makes a cameo appearance in the scene where Fubar tries to escape from the dogs.
In the Aleutians – Isles of Enchantment Chuck Jones February 12, 1945
It's Murder She Says Chuck Jones February 26, 1945
Hot Spot Friz Freleng July 2, 1945
No Buddy Atoll Chuck Jones October 8, 1945
Operation Snafu Friz Freleng December 22, 1945 In a cartoon with no dialog, Snafu does something right for once as he personally steals Japanese war plans and captures Tojo himself.
Private Snafu Presents Seaman Tarfu in the Navy George Gordon 1946 Produced by Harman and Ising.
Unreleased shorts
Going Home Chuck Jones Unreleased (planned for 1944)[16] There are various theories as to why the short was never released, among them that the depicted "secret weapon" was too reminiscent of the American nuclear weapons program.[17]
Secrets of the Caribbean Chuck Jones Unreleased (planned for 1945) N/A Master given to the Army.[16]
Lost cartoon
Mop Up William Hanna
Joseph Barbera[18]
Unreleased (planned for 1945) N/A Project was aborted before filming; also known as How to Get a Fat Jap Out of a Cave.[19][20]

A Few Quick Facts[edit]

In addition to his own shorts, Snafu made some cameo appearances in the Few Quick Facts series of Army-commissioned training films produced by other studios.

Title Date Director Studio Notes
AIR&NAVY/China/Safety 1944 unknown MGM Snafu appears in the third segment.
US Soldier/Bullet/Diarrhea and Dysentery 1944 unknown MGM and UPA[21] Snafu appears in the third segment.
USS Iowa/Brain/Shoes 1944 unknown MGM Snafu appears in the third segment.
Chaplain Corps/Accidents/Gas 1944 unknown MGM Snafu appears in the second act.
Voting for Servicemen Overseas 1944 unknown Disney
Venereal Disease 1944 unknown Disney Lost cartoon
Inflation 1945 Osmond Evans UPA
About Fear 1945 Zack Schwartz UPA
Japan 1945 Osmond Evans UPA
Lend/Lease 1945 unknown UPA
GI Bill of Rights[22] 1946 unknown Disney

In addition, Weapons of War (1945) was originally planned to be part of the Few Quick Facts series but was left out,[23] while Another Change (1945) produced by Disney was probably also left out of the Few Quick Facts series.[24]

Similar cartoons[edit]

While Private Snafu is well known for educating military soldiers, a few other similar series were produced for slightly different purposes. Produced by Walter Lantz Productions and later Warner Bros. Cartoons, Mr. Hook was created to encourage American Navy personnel to buy war bonds and hold them until the end of the war.

Also around the same time, Hugh Harman Productions created a short series called Commandments for Health, along with a character named Private McGillicuddy.[25] McGillicuddy was a US Marine who shared similarities to Snafu (both even voiced by Mel Blanc), but this series has a much greater emphasis on health care. Because of the small budget, the shorts use limited animation, which had yet to be popularized by mainstream studios at the time.

Warner Bros. also produced a short entitled Dive Bombing Crashes, a cartoon made for a joint-series called Pilot Safety, featuring Grampaw Pettibone. Two shorts were known to be made, the second of which was produced by UPA.[26]

Chuck Jones would later direct a 1955 cartoon entitled A Hitch In Time, a short made for the United States Air Force to encourage airmen to re-enlist.[27] The lead character, John McRoger, bears strong resemblance to Snafu, albeit updated to Jones's mid-1950s style, while he encounters Grogan, Technical Gremlin First Class, an updated version of the Technical Fairy from the WWII Snafu shorts.


  • Cohen, Karl F. (2004). "Censorship of Theatrical Animation". Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators in America. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0786420322.

Further reading[edit]

  • Birdwell, Michael (June 2005). "Technical fairy first class? Is this any way to Run an Army?: Private Snafu and World War II". Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. 25 (2): 203–212. doi:10.1080/01439680500137953. S2CID 191468765.
  • Culbert, David H. (1976). "Walt Disney's Private Snafu: The Use of Humor in World War II Army Film". Prospects: An Annual Journal of American Culture. 1: 81–96. doi:10.1017/S0361233300004300.
  • Nel, P. (2007). "Children's Literature Goes to War: Dr. Seuss, P. D. Eastman, Munro Leaf, and the Private SNAFU Films (1943–46)". The Journal of Popular Culture. 40 (3): 468–487. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5931.2007.00404.x. S2CID 162293411.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Nel 2007
  2. ^ Coons, Robbin (February 15, 1944). "Private Snafu Army Favorite". Prescott Evening Courier. Retrieved July 5, 2011.
  3. ^ a b Cohen (2004), p. 40
  4. ^ Silvey, Anita. "Fifty Years of 'The Cat in the Hat'". NPR.org. NPR. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  5. ^ Cohen (2004), p. 41
  6. ^ Shull, Michael S.; Wilt, David E. (2014). Doing Their Bit: Wartime American Animated Short Films, 1939–1945 (2nd ed.). McFarland Inc. p. 86. ISBN 9780786481699.
  7. ^ Cohen, Karl F. (2013). Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators in America. McFarland Inc. pp. 40–42. ISBN 9781476607252.
  8. ^ McGowan, David (2019). Animated Personalities: Cartoon Characters and Stardom in American Theatrical Shorts. University of Texas Press. p. 101. ISBN 9781477317433.
  9. ^ "Private Snafu Presents Seaman Tarfu in the Navy (1946)". IMDb. 2009-05-01. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  10. ^ "Announcing: The Private Snafu Sneak Preview Disc for GAC only!" (Forums Archives). Golden age cartoons. Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  11. ^ Private Snafu Golden Classics: Movies & TV. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  12. ^ "Private Snafu Golden Classics Blu-ray".
  13. ^ "Coming!! Snafu (1943): Trivia". IMDb. Retrieved 9 June 2021.
  14. ^ "Coming!! Snafu (1943): Cast". IMDb. Retrieved 9 June 2021.
  15. ^ "Gripes (1943): Cast". IMDb. Retrieved 9 June 2021.
  16. ^ a b "Misce-Looney-Ous: Situation Normal All Fouled up". Archived from the original on 2008-05-12. Retrieved 2008-05-05.
  17. ^ Shull, Michael S.; Wilt, David E. (2004), "Private Snafu Cartoons", Doing Their Bit: Wartime American Animated Short Films, 1939-1945, McFarland & Company, p. 194-195, ISBN 978-0786481699
  18. ^ "Private Snafu in "Mop-Up" |". cartoonresearch.com. Retrieved 22 April 2024.
  19. ^ Cohen, Charles (24 February 2004). The Seuss, the Whole Seuss and Nothing but the Seuss: A Visual Biography of Theodor Seuss Geisel. Random House Children's Books. ISBN 9780375822483.
  20. ^ Shull, Michael S.; Wilt, David E. (23 May 2014). Doing Their Bit: Wartime American Animated Short Films, 1939-1945, 2d ed. McFarland. ISBN 9780786481699.
  21. ^ "UPA Filmography". whenmagooflew.com. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  22. ^ "GI Bill Of Rights (1946)". cartoonresearch.com.
  23. ^ "Snafu Art INDEX". Wilwhimsey.com. Archived from the original on 2012-03-31. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  24. ^ "Rare War Shorts from the Disney Studio |".
  25. ^ "The Five Commandments". July 21, 2015.
  26. ^ Beck, Jerry (2011-04-02). "The Lost "Grampaw Pettibone" by Warner Bros. Cartoons". Cartoon Brew. Retrieved 2023-10-30.
  27. ^ Amidi, Amid (2012-09-30). ""A Hitch in Time" By Chuck Jones". Cartoon Brew. Retrieved 2023-10-30.

External links[edit]