Two cartoons — OK, three

This week I saw a Warner Bros. Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection DVD for $14.99. That was too good a price to pass up, and it was marked down at the register to $4.99. Interestingly, most of the items on it are MGM cartoons which few people remember today, including seven Tom and Jerry shorts. What I’ll be writing about here, though, are some of the ones from Warner.

“So Much for So Little” is, to put it bluntly, government propaganda. It promotes the federal Health Centers that were around in the forties and fifties, promising cradle-to-grave health protection at absurdly low costs. (And you thought that was something new.) The narrator asserts that 2,621,932 babies “will be born next year,” and 118.481 of them “will die before reaching their first birthday.” That’s really impressive predictive precision, trying to give the impression of governmental omniscience but just sounding silly. The willingness of the judges to grant such drivel an Academy Award just shows how eager they were to get the government’s favor.

“Speedy Gonzales,” on the other hand, is unintentionally subversive. Today people object to it for presenting Mexican stereotypes, but that’s not all it does. The cartoon opens with a shot of a mesh fence at the international border, with starving Mexican mice looking through it at the Ajax Cheese Factory. The fence doesn’t stop mice, but Sylvester the cat is there as the fierce American border guard. A terrified mouse is picked to try to get to the factory and grab some cheese; we see his fate only by its reflection in the faces of the surviving mice and the tossing of his sombrero onto a pile of discarded ones. Once Speedy shows up, he repeatedly makes a fool of the gringo pussycat. In frustration, Sylvester blows up a huge pile of cheese, succeeding only in making it rain on the happy mice behind the fence.

Viewed today, does it really make Mexicans look bad, or does it ridicule the Fortress America mentality?

I also have to mention “The Dot and the Line,” which I’d never heard of before but has to be the most wonderfully nerdy cartoon ever made by a major studio. It’s a completely abstract presentation of a Flatland-like love of a line for a dot, which doesn’t sound like something I’d care for but justified the price of the DVD many times over. It’s based on a story by Norton Juster, who also wrote The Phantom Tollbooth, and its elaborate graphics were created without the benefit of computers. The moral at the end of the story convulsed me with laughter.

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