In 1943, Roy O. Disney approached the Title Registration Committee to convince them that all the cartoon studios registering new titles about gremlins violated Disney’s claim to the word and previously registered title for a proposed feature film inspired by Roald Dahl’s story. For what Roy later claimed were “technical reasons” the committee ruled against the Disney Studio so Roy contacted them personally.
Both Walter Lantz and MGM’s Fred Quimby agreed to drop their projects.
Roy wrote a memo to his brother Walt dated March 25, 1943 that the other cartoon studios agreed to not produce gremlin cartoons but Columbia apparently decided to continue such a project.
Roy wrote personally to Columbia studio president Harry Cohn on April 16, 1943:
“Harry, you know Walt and me well enough to realize we wouldn’t give two hoots about competition, short subject to short subject. But I am very worried when we start to make a feature that takes us at least a year to produce and costs us at least $600,000 to $800,000-I’m worried at the thought of having a property of this size undermined and hurt by a lot of single reels that may saturate the public’s desire to see a ‘Gremlin’ feature and really do us considerable harm in the marketing of it.”
B.B. Kahane, who became Vice President of Columbia in 1938, replied on behalf of Cohn that Columbia would not develop any cartoons about gremlins.
Two animated shorts were already too far into production when Roy requested that Warner Brothers producer Leon Schlesinger not produce a gremlin short.
Falling Hare released October 30, 1943 was an eight minute Technicolor Warner Brothers animated short directed by Bob Clampett. Originally the cartoon was entitled Bugs Bunny and the Gremlin.
Clampett never knew the reason Schlesinger requested the change in the titles to his two gremlin cartoons until 1976 when an interviewer told him about Roy Disney’s request.
The film’s story was unique because Bugs Bunny was the victim rather than the victor and the Oscar winning rabbit never says “What’s Up, Doc?” during the entire cartoon.
During World War II, on an Army Air Force airfield, Bugs is relaxing on top of a bomb waiting to be placed into a nearby bomber plane. He is reading a book entitled Victory Thru Hare Power (a reference to the 1942 book Victory Through Airpower by Major Alexander de Seversky that was the inspiration for a Disney propaganda film). The book claims that gremlins wreck American planes through diabolical sabotage.
Bugs laughingly dismisses such a claim until he sees one of the creatures striking a mallet on the head of bomb in hopes of detonating it. “These blockbuster bombs don’t go off unless you hit them….juuuust right,” explains the gremlin to the curious Bugs.
Bugs offers to assist the little creature using one mighty blow instead of several tiny ones. At almost the last moment, he comes to a shocking realization that the bomb could blow up and stops his swing.
The gremlin hits the rabbit with a monkey wrench. Bugs chases the gremlin onto the bomber and finds himself locked inside as the creature gets the craft airborne.
Throughout the flight, the gremlin constantly physically torments Bugs. At one point, the gremlin aims the plane at some skyscrapers and Bugs grabs the controls to roll the plane into a vertical position to fly through them to avoid impact.
The plane goes into a tailspin with its wings ripping off and only the fuselage remaining as it plunges toward the ground. However, just before the impact, the plane sputters to a halt just a few feet from the earth.
Both Bugs and the gremlin tell the audience that they ran out of gas because of the “A card”, a rationing sticker indicating the lowest priority and limiting the amount of gas purchased to three to four gallons per week. It was a situation very familiar to an American wartime audience and resulted in a large laugh of recognition as the final punch line.
The story was credited to Warren Foster with Rod Scribner as the lead animator.
This particular Gremlin makes two reappearances in the Tiny Toon Adventures syndicated television series in the episodes “Journey to the Center of Acme Acres” where the gremlin appears (with several look-alikes) as the cause of earthquakes in Acme Acres and in “Night Ghoulery” menancing Plucky Duck in the segment “Gremlin on a Wing”, a parody of the iconic Twilight Zone television episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” with William Shatner seeing a vicious gremlin.
Russian Rhapsody released May 20, 1944 was a seven minute Technicolor Warner Brothers animated short directed by Bob Clampett. Originally, the cartoon was entitled Gremlins from the Kremlin and the animated short still includes a song by that name sung to the tunes of Ochi Chyornye (Dark Eyes) and Eh, Uchnem (Song of the Volga Boatmen).
The film’s story is merely a simple framework on which to hang a non-stop series of visual gags. Interestingly, the film makes clear that it is telling a story that is taking place in 1941 rather than 1944.
During World War II, German bombers are mysteriously disappearing and failing to make it to Moscow to bomb the Soviets into submission. Apparently, colorful Soviet gremlins are sabotaging the planes before their reach their target.
Adolf Hitler is so irate that he decides to fly a bomber “in person” to attack the Russians since he is the best pilot in the world. In flight, the gremlins sneak onto the plane and proceed to dismantle it with hammers, saws, blowtorches and more as they sing that they are “the little men that weren’t there”. They simultaneously viciously destroy different parts of the aircraft with unabashed glee.
Hitler finally discovers the intruders and unsuccesfully tries to stop them as they continually physically humilate him. Finally, the gremlins cut a hole in the fuselage and drop him out into the sky.
The frightened falling dictator realizes that the plane is now in a power dive aimed right at him. When he reaches the ground, he tries to hide but the plane drives Hitler deep into the ground with the tail section remaining visible and becoming a makeshift tombstone. The gremlins celebrate their victory.
Many of the gremlins are exaggerated caricatures of the Warner Bros. animation department staff including Chuck Jones (a small purple one), Bob Clampett (with pick axe), Friz Freleng (small green one with long pointed nose), Melvin “Tubby” Millar (with the tack on his head), Michael Sasanoff, Michael Maltese, Carl Stalling, Henry Binder (V-shaped black hair), John Burton and Ray Katz (being hit by Schlesinger gremlin) among others.
Even producer Leon Schlesinger appears as a gremlin who is shown tapping the heads off of rivets with a hammer as he’s being raised by a rope on a hook through the back of his clothes. (Poor video copy embed below. A better copy of Russian Rhapsody is posted here).
In 1984, Warner Brothers produced a film directed by Joe Dante entitled simply Gremlins and in 1990 proposed doing an animated series featuring these creations for the Kids WB animation block.