The sixth cartoon of the Censored Eleven is the “Merrie Melodies” episode The Isle of Pingo Pongo, which Warner Brothers released in 1938. It is a blend of the old and the new and in more ways than one. Concerning the “old,” the film is the second on the list that Tex Avery directed, and it is the second of the Eleven to eventually be a “Blue Ribbon” reissue.
It also relies on characterizations of African American jazz musicians (as in Clean Pastures) and indigenous Africans (as in Jungle Jitters). What is new about the film is that it blends the ethnic generalizations so that the natives act like jazz musicians. Also, in contrast to earlier cartoons having some spot-gags before introducing the plot, this cartoon is all spot-gags. Finally, the majority of the film’s length does not feature any ethnic caricatures. The indigenous residents of Pingo Pongo collectively take up barely half of the film’s duration; moreover, they appear in the latter half of the cartoon.
Warner Brothers considered the film worthy of a second release in the 1940s. It had box-office value as a Technicolor cartoon. Also, its parody of travel documentaries was still timely when reissued, and the images of the dark-skinned characters were still on a par with Hollywood’s portrayals of people of African heritage. In addition, as discussed for the Censored Eleven cartoon Jungle Jitters, much of the African continent remained colonized by European countries during and immediately after World War II.
When Associated Artists Productions and then United Artists brought the cartoon to television through syndication in the late 1950s, its imagery was no different from other syndicated fare that had once run in theaters. But by 1968, Europe had started to decolonize Africa, and the sight-gags about the lip sizes of dark-skinned figures and the “primitive” behavior of the indigenous hinted at the colonialism from which the continent had started breaking free. Ultimately, United Artists decided not to censor just the latter half of the film and keep it in circulation; instead, it removed the entire film on the basis of the ethnic images in four of the cartoon’s eight minutes. That, too, was new for a Censored Eleven film.
And now we are over the halfway point with the columns about the Censored Eleven.