Christopher P. Lehman
December 1, 2018 posted by Christopher Lehman

Jasper and the Puppetoons – Part 3

Whereas Paramount Pictures first promoted its fictional animated figure Jasper as a major cartoon star in 1943, the year 1944 was when Jasper actually became a big star. His celebrity attracted multiple major figures in commercial art. In February producer/director George Pal celebrated the second birthday of his figures Jasper and Scarecrow with a cake at Paramount’s studio in Hollywood. Feg Murray presented Jasper in the King Features Syndicate comic strip Seein’ Stars that same year. In return Pal presented a model of Jasper to Murray, according to Motion Picture Herald. Jasper was so popular that Warner Brothers’ marquee cartoon star Bugs Bunny made a cameo appearance in a “Jasper” episode.

On the one hand, that film–Jasper Goes Hunting–provided another “first” for Pal–a film starring major characters from multiple studios. Mel Blanc was already voicing exclusively for Warner Brothers when he lent his voice to Paramount for Bugs’s cameo. Due to the location of Paramount’s Fleischer Studio and Famous Studio in New York and Florida, the California-based Blanc was not a staple in the distributor’s films. Thus, this episode allowed the biggest cartoon vocal star, the biggest drawn-animation star, and the biggest puppet-animation star to appear together.

Bugs Bunny’s cameo in JASPER GOES HUNTING (1944) – This frame is from a UCLA Archive restoration in progress, funded by Asifa-Hollywood

On the other hand, Jasper Goes Hunting demonstrates Pal’s tendency to use gimmickry to strengthen flimsy stories and hoary stereotypes. In this case, Pal’s use of Bugs Bunny provided the gimmick of the celebrity cameo. Puppetry had already buttressed some thin stories from the past two years, but by 1944 puppetry itself was no longer enough. Still, Paramount and Pal could not make Bugs a co-star for the rest of the “Jasper’ series, and it would have been expensive to try to arrange for guest stars from other studios for every further episode. After an appearance from Bugs Bunny, where else can a cartoon series go creatively? In Package for Jasper, even the Crow complains, “Here we go again!”

Jasper’s hit status allowed him to be marketed as toys and in children’s books.

In 1944 four of Pal’s six cartoons for Paramount starred Jasper, and the formula for the thin stories is repetitive. As in previous years, the Scarecrow either involves Jasper in schemes or tells tall tales about his life. Scarecrow acts as Jasper’s dentist in Say Ah, Jasper and tries to steal a gingerbread cookie in Jasper’s Paradise. He pretends to be a great hunter in Jasper Goes Hunting and a skilled musician in Package for Jasper, which is very similar in story to Jasper’s Music Lesson.

Dialect is in heaps with phrases like “you is” and “done got,” and Jasper’s mammy-figure mother returns for two of the episodes. Jasper’s domination of the Puppetoons in 1944 means that these shortcomings dominated Pal’s work for that year.

However, there are creative and daring moments in some episodes. Bugs Bunny’s cameo is one of the more innovative moments of the year’s releases if not in the entire “Jasper” series. Also, Pal experimented with the imaging of social customs regarding African Americans. In Package for Jasper, the boy receives a box addressed to him. The address reveals Jasper’s last name as Hawkins. His middle name is Jefferson Lincoln Washington–a nod to the trend among some free African Americans to name their children after Founding Fathers and the Great Emancipator.

More importantly, Jasper is given the title “Mr.” on the package; during the Jim Crow years, African Americans were commonly addressed by people outside of their communities with only their first name or nicknames “Boy” or “Auntie.” They were rarely given formal titles of respect like “Mr.” Also, the postal worker in the film is African American–a departure from the sharecroppers and domestic servants usually populating movies. In Jasper Goes Hunting, Jasper holds a gun, and he imagines himself as a wartime soldier. This frolicking African American wartime soldier-as-child was on a par with musical soldiers of Walter Lantz’s Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B but was not as crude in ethnic caricature as Schlesinger’s Coal Black an de Sebben Dwarfs or Columbia’s Old Blackout Joe.

With a hit on his hands, Pal suddenly had to decide how to maintain Jasper’s “hit” status. Would he stick with a formula beginning to show its age? Or would he evolve his breadwinner?

NEXT MONTH: Jasper in 1945


  • Wow! I was not even aware of this short’s existence. Looking forward to reading part II.

  • How many cartoons are UCLA/ASIFA restoring this year again? Great to see a tantalizing frame from a “restored” Jasper Goes Hunting, those beet-red collector prints circulating around for most of the still-under-copyright Puppetoons are such a disservice to the original Technicolor splendour as envisioned by George Pal and co.

    • Asifa-Hollywood allots funds for several cartoon restorations and preservations each year, to several institutions and archives, including The UCLA Film and Television Archive, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Thunderbean Animation (Steve Stanchfield) and others.

      A public screening of our most recent preservation efforts (which include Terrytoons, Fleischer and Puppetoons – including Jasper Goes Hunting) will be held in February (exact date and time to be announced) at the Hammer Museum in Westwood California, at the bi-annual UCLA Archive Festival Of Preservation. Details haven’t been formerly announced yet – but the website with bare bones information is here:

    • Thanks Jerry!
      Shame I won’t be able to see these preservations the way they’re meant to be seen on a big screen, but it’s always nice to read and hear about them. Keep up the good fight!

  • Judging from the still, it looks like Bugs was done by the Clampett unit, probably animated by Bob McKimson.

    • According to Joe Adamson’s Bugs Bunny 50th Anniversary book, it was McKimson’s animation.

  • A rather poor quality video here but you get the idea.

    I’ll be glad when these are restored and available again.

  • Intrigued by the toys and the book — Did any other Pal characters rate merchandise at all? Before this I’d seen nothing but some comic covers.

    Pal did use some live celebrities: “Date With Duke” had Duke Ellington playing piano and interacting with talking perfume bottles, while Woody Herman narrated and played for “Rhapsody in Wood”. “Jasper in a Jam” had the voice of Peggy Lee, but she was performing a character and not herself.

  • I’d heard about this cartoon, but I don’t think our TV station that occasionally aired the PUPPETOONS cartoons ever aired this one, and the same station used to air *ALL* of the MGM Bosko cartoons. There were JASPER cartoons aired, although I cannot recall which were aired at all…just not this particular one. The cartoon has occasionally been shown in animation festivals, and I’m delighted that ASIFA is now funding the restoration of PUPPETOONS cartoons in general. Boy, would I love to be on hand to check out the restoration, just to hear the clarity! However, I hope that the next step is to distribute these cartoons on DVD, perhaps as part of the next release of “THE PUPPETOONS MOVIE” or, if they have enough titles restored, more than they thought, they might just release a PUPPETOONS set apart from the movie? I’m not trying to spread rumors, here; just putting my dream out there.

  • To Jerry Beck: for decades I’ve been trying to find a Puppetoon, which I just discovered that name through research after research. Thought it was Jasper, but not the same character. This was like a Tubby the Tuba. I was able to miraculously- not -even- looking,- discover the song it featured. It was Duke Ellington’s “Dancer in Love”. The little wooden stop action figure dances to the tune on the piano. I can’t find it anywhere and maybe it wasn’t preserved. Use to see it on morning carton shows in the late 50’s out of Detroit.

    WEMU Eastern Michigan University , Ypsilanti, Sunday’s Best radio broadcast this morning (12/9/18) played it and I rushed to the radio hoping the announcer would tell the title. So I finally had something to go on. No luck so far. Came across your reply by accident. Can you help? Do you have any idea? Thanks much.
    Kathryn Wood.

    • That film is preserved – and is on DVD and blu-ray. It’s called A DATE WITH DUKE. It’s included with the bonus content on THE PUPPETOON MOVIE. Check it out here:

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