>> Saturday, May 9, 2009
USA/B&W-6m./Dir: Hugh Harman & Rudolph Isling/Cast: Bosko (Carmen Maxwell), Papa Pig (Uncredited), Piglets (Uncredited)
Many of the funniest and most memorable cartoon characters in motion picture history sprang from the animation division of Warner Brothers studios--Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and Wile E. Coyote, just to name a few. However, a decade before the boys at “Termite Terrace” brought those classic characters to life, Warner Brothers introduced Bosco, the very first Looney Tunes star.
In his first couple of shorts it was obvious that Bosko was intended to be a racial stereotype of an African-American boy, with features based on the blackface makeup popularized in minstrel shows of the 1910’s and 20’s. However, as the series continued, the offensive origin of Bosko became less obvious, and the high-voiced character began to more closely resemble Mickey Mouse without the large ears. The transformation was more or less complete by the fifth Bosko cartoon (and the first with an alcohol-related theme), The Booze Hangs High.
As with many cartoons of the time, there is little plot to The Booze Hangs High. Bosko and various farm animals dance, laugh, and bounce in time to the musical score. That’s more or less it. However, the short gets interesting around the half way mark. Bosko feeds his pigs, and the piglets discover a bottle of hooch mixed in with their slop. One of the piglets uses its curly tail as a corkscrew to open the bottle, and the under-aged hogs drink themselves sappy. Papa Pig catches the pair of potted piglets, but instead of scolding them, he gets stewed himself. When the elder pig tosses the bottle, Bosko gets hit with the remains of the liquor. Instantly drunk, the farmer joins the swine in a chorus of “Sweet Adeline.”
The Booze Hangs High is nowhere near as funny as the classic Looney Tunes that would follow, and of course, Bosko’s racist origins are troubling. Today, The Booze Hangs High is best viewed as an interesting historical artifact from a time when America’s racial attitudes were less sophisticated and when animals bounced in time with music.
One interesting note--When Nickelodeon aired this cartoon on television, it censored a moment when Papa Pig drunkenly regurgitates a corncob.
Drinks Consumed--Triple-X hooch (likely whiskey)
Intoxicating Effects--Hiccups, the giggles, staggering, belching, vomiting, and harmonizing
Potent Quotables--There’s no dialogue in this one, apart from the chorus of “Sweet Adeline.”
Video Availability--Available as part of the Looney Tunes - Golden Collection, Vol. 6 (Warner Home Video). This public domain short is also provided in its entirety above.
Similarly Sauced Cinema--Early animated star Felix the Cat got high on hooch in the silent short Felix the Cat Woos Whoopee (1928).