Just a quick note: I think it’s important to share the history of animated films if you’re lucky enough to be able to. It seems a huge shame to me that so many films exist and are so hard to see. One of the continuing missions of Thunderbean Thursday (and Thunderbean as a tiny company for that matter!) is to at least make many of these rare films available. I’ll never be under the assumption that this somehow makes the world a better place or anything, but it does allow many things to at least be seen – and for history to be more accessible. If you had worked on one of these films more than half a century ago, I think you’d smile hearing that someone enjoyed your work all this time later.
One of the oddest animated short advertising films ever made is the 1935 Kool Penguins cartoon, produced for Brown and Williamson, a subsidiary of the British American Tobacco Company. The film was made by Audio Productions in New York, who also made the wonderfully bizarre Once Upon a Time (1936). Never has a cartoon made smoking look so appealing and friendly.
Kool was the first American Menthol brand. The penguin cartoon mascot of course (‘Willie’) is representing the ‘arctic menthol coolness’ . It’s the first character to be directly associated with a smoking brand, but far from the last. It’s hard to say if cartoon characters have a big impact on people smoking. I did smoke briefly in High School myself, but I could never attribute that to my great love of Popeye.
The film tells the story of refugee penguins leaving their home under threat of being skinned to go work in the Kool Cigarette factory in Louisville, Kentucky. They almost instantly adapt to their new factory jobs; one wonders how the company operated before they arrived. On their way across the ocean to the states, they notice that New York is feeling down in the dumps under a very ‘happy’ sun. Note taken.
By the end of the cartoon, New York is a happy place to be once again, and to top off the evening’s events, the statue of liberty even gets a lesson in coolness.
It’s difficult to watch the cute little penguins literally snow cover the city with cigarettes. In a more informed time, there are things about this film that are both completely charming and sad all at once. Having lost my mother this year largely due to smoking, it is especially sad to think that children were led to believe the casual enjoyment of cigarettes was an experience similar to delicious candy.
I do wish I had a 100% complete copy. This version appears on Cultoons, Volume 1, and was available though the generosity of the continually essential Mark Kausler. I’m aware of at least one more print that is more complete with titles, but I have yet to see it. It resides in New York, and I hope to someday find something so ‘cool’ to trade that the longtime collector who has it will finally let me borrow it. What I do know is that former (and later) Fleischer animator John Walworth directed the film. It looks to me like a mix of experienced and much less experienced animators on the picture, with some shots timed very well, while others are bizarre at best.
Here’s an early 50s Kool spot. I think a still from this spot appears in the Famous Cartoonists’ Course.
Of course, Disney’s Pecos Bill has our hero very much enjoying his cigarettes. On some later home video releases, Disney would remove his smoking all together, leaving a few scenes looking particularly bizarre.
Speaking of Walt Disney (a chain-smoker himself) – here’s Goofy, aka George Geef, a smoking addict. You won’t see this one broadcast on the Disney Channel anytime soon.
On other smoking notes, Fred and Barney of course enjoyed their Winstons, as Winston was the first sponsor of The Flintstones:
There aren’t too many ANTI smoking cartoons, but at Famous Studios there was at least this film from 1954. One has to wonder how many people smoked that worked on it. It’s neat to see this transfer I did many years back still show up on the internet, with it’s original ending intact, from a well used 35mm Technicolor print:
Another smokers nightmare appeared from Paramount in 1961.
The educational market takes note. From the mid-60s, The Huffless, Puffless Dragon, produced by Ernest Pintoff:
Halas and Batchelor produced this educational short in 1967; it’s one I had never seen before. Here in a fairly nice copy:
In later years of course, Joe Camel set off a new argument about cartoon characters appealing to children in advertisements. It was even said that the camels nose was designed to resemble male genitals.
Joe was spoofed by the Dartmouth College-produced short Falldown Brown in Smokey Lies in 2000. Here is a link for the trailer of this short, produced in earlier days before more assessable CG animation software and rigs.
As for Joe Camel himself – We’ll give him the last word: