September 26, 2013 posted by

Thunderbean Thursday: Hitting the Sauce


There sure are a lot of drunk characters in old cartoons….

Drunkeness seems to be one of the most popular of themes in Golden Age Animation. I never really understood why characters would act bizarre once they had drank something when I was very young- and I have to wonder if a lot of the
kids who saw the films back in the 30s, 40s and 50s really understood either. Maybe had my parents drank more I would.

In some ways, it’s an easy gag. You can have a character merrily flop around the frame, barely able to hold themselves up. Instant funny.

timothy_drunkDrinking is featured prominently (and played for laughs) in Disney’s Pinocchio (’40), Fantasia (’40) and Dumbo (’41), as well as the shorts Galloping Gaucho (’28) , Mickey in Arabia (’32), Alpine Climbers (’36), The Country Cousin (’36) and Pluto’s Quintuplets (’37). Later, Sleeping Beauty (’59) and Robin Hood (’73) both feature booze as the centerpiece of a sequence.

Columbia’s Krazy Kat cartoon Farm Relief (’29) is perhaps one of the funniest drunk cartoons ever. In fact, drinking is often featured in Columbia’s Scrappy cartoons. Sometimes they are just little throwaway gags, as in Puttin’ Out the Kitten (’37) where a gag involved pages of a children’s book being flipped, stopping on ‘The Pie-Eyed Piper’.

Warner’s cartoons have drunk characters nearly from the start, including Bosko in The Booze Hangs High (’30) and the first Merrie Melodie, Lady Play your Mandolin (’31). Into the 30’s the drinking continued. In Wise Quacks (’39) Porky and a drunk Daffy have to rescue one of Daffy’s ducklings from a flock of hawks. Porky’s cats all get drunk in Kitty Kornered (’46). Free beer is offered in One Froggy Evening (’55). How many Warner’s cartoons can you name that
feature drinking?

sliphorn_title250The Van Beuren Tom and Jerrys feature the duo toasting each other in various countries during prohibition, and the cartoon Doughnuts (’33) uses baked goods as an excuse to make cartoon about drinking.

Felix the Cat is perhaps the cartoon world’s drinking champ- he’s a fairly heavy drinker if one is to calculate the cartoons he’s drinking in versus the ones he doesn’t.

Perhaps the Lantz studio wins the award for most drunk characters. My favorites are Mousie Come Home (’46) where a mouse fails to commit suicide, getting drunk by accident instead. I think the main character is drunk most of the way through Sliphorn King of Polaroo (’45). There just isn’t a studio that didn’t have characters get drunk at one point or another, though some characters didn’t partake themselves. The Hayes board seems to never have a second thought about these idea appearing in entertainment for children- there’s nothing in the production code that objects to sloshed characters.

That said, there is rarely a cartoon that actually bases the WHOLE FILM on a character being drunk, but if someone was going to do it, of course it would have to be Columbia’s Screen Gems studio in the later 40’s. Here is Pickled Puss (1948) the only cartoons as far as I know that is ALL about a drunken cat. The transfer here is from a 35mm IB technicolor print. Cheers!



  • Felix Woos Whoopee!

    (The version with the alternate soundtrack,
    and NOT “There’ll Be A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight” with sound effects)

  • Well, there’s also “Part Time Pals” with Tom and Jerry, another one with a drunken cat!

  • How could you leave out Sniffles and the razor in “Naughty But Mice”? My 7-year-old self would be most perturbed.

  • you forgot the end of cheese burglar and the screen song “little brown jug”?

    And tiny toons one beer?

    And barney gumble?

  • It occurs to me that drunkenness in cartoons, at least through 1934, should be seen in the context of a topical reference to popular attitudes about Prohbition being in effect during that time. One sees a lot of speakeasy gags, characters secretly taking swigs, etc. Most blatantly, in BETTY BOOP FOR PRESIDENT, the cartoon ends with a giant beer-mug superimposed on the screen, no doubt signifying the Fleischers’ endorsement of Repeal (which today could be the equivalent of showing a giant joint to endorse decriminalizing marjiuana).

  • The sixth Pink Panther short, “Pickled Pink”, features a character soused through the entire cartoon. Mel Blanc voices him (and his domineering wife).

  • >>How many Warner’s cartoons can you name that feature drinking?<<

    How about the drunken fish (!) in Porky's Duck Hunt?

  • The perpetually schnockered stork delivering babies in the Warner toons.

    And Porky’s dog Black Fury in Porky’s Party. “Happppppppppppppp…….-y Birthday!”

  • in Jones’ High Note the main note is drunk and at the end they are all plastered playing “Little Brown Jug”.

  • “Pink Pajamas” has a tipsy guy who had to call A.A. after seeing a pink panther in his bed.

    • Thinking about jokes like that, there’s a moment in Disney’s “The Aristocats” of a guy about to take a swig of wine when he sees the alley cats running in front of the mouse (Roquefort). Thinking it was the opposite of cats chasing mice, he then pours out the whole bottle as the scene fades out. Of course in the same film we get the goose Uncle Waldo and his little escapade at a restaurant .

  • “Porky’s Duck Hunt” with the drunk fish singing “On Moonlight Bay” is one of my all-time favorites, as well as Chuck Jones’ “High Note.”

    There’s also Famous Studios’ “Little Brown Jug” (1948) which has animals making “cider” which ends up in the pond with lots of animals getting drunk. It includes a sing-a-long at the end of the cartoon which basically celebrates alcohol and drunkenness.

  • Sadly, real alchoholism is no joke. It tears apart families and turns loved ones into raging monsters. Too bad that prohibition failed, we would be better off without alcoholic beverages. Poor Fred Moore, one of the greatest animators who ever lived, was killed by alcohol. When you see him animate a drunken character, as he did with Timothy Mouse in “Dumbo”, or the drunken elves in Walter Lantz’s “Pixie Picnic’, he did it very well, especially his timing of drunken staggers. I’m sure he staggered quite often in real life, and used that sense memory in his animation. When working on “Shinbone Alley” for John Wilson in 1969, I saw one animator (Gil Rugg) actually die from alcohol poisoning, and Dick Kinney, Jack’s brother, was a total wreck from consuming the stuff nearly every afternoon.

    • It is truly sad Mark. I’m also a non-drinker as well and saw what it did to my mother over the years before her death. It’s really no laughing matter yet somehow our ancestors felt they had to make jokes about the over-excessive nature of drinking as if we have to be reminded why we shouldn’t start (if that was the purpose).

    • Yes, agreed, Mark and Chris. It’s interesting that addiction to alcohol is nearly always portrayed in cartoons as funny. In the Nifty Nineties, a slide show that Mickey and Minnie watch tells the story of a family torn apart by alcohol, trying to get their father to return from the bar- and of course played for laughs.

      It strikes me that the attitude toward alcohol is similar in some ways to racist imagery in that there doesn’t seem to be a second thought in presenting these ideas just like any other gag (and in doing so in media popularizing them in some ways).

      In animation, drinking is clearly one of the most popular themes… and as a piece of popular entertainment it reflects the attitudes of society. I do wonder how today’s entertainment will be reflected on….. and what, if anything, we’ve learned.

    • I think of that everyday Steve.

    • Is there anything portrayed in cartoons as NOT funny? Once in a while a sentimental toon will ask us to pity a character who’s cold and hungry, or who’s been rejected by the girl. A peril might by played for genuine suspense. But as a general rule, it’s not in a cartoon at all unless it’s intended as a laugh.

      It’s not just alcoholism. Grievous bodily harm, racist stereotypes, mockery of old age, “pansies”, poverty as happy hoboes in crushed top hats . . . All appear almost exclusively in the context of jokes. And female characters are constantly and cavalierly at risk of clearly implied rape, just to set up comic battles. Just watched “Chess Nuts,” in which the king carries Betty into a bedroom — and the bed gets up and leaves, as if it disapproves of what the king clearly has in mind.

      There were limits. Sex as a rule could only be presented as an enthusiasm for kissing or as comic reactions to the opposite gender. Grievous bodily harm produced no blood, and nothing longer lasting than a slow burn and maybe bandages for a single shot. Death was occasionally implied, but either as an indirect gag (lion picking his teeth while wearing a character’s hat) or rendered unfatal with an angel joke. Religion — unless you consider Jewish caricatures religious — was verboten. Drug references were few and far between even in the freewheeling precode days. And even those limits would be transgressed from time to time (See the Famous/Paramount cartoons where Katnip and others appear groggy or in actual pain after some gag violence. Or “The Truant Officer”, where after a fire Donald mistakes three BBQed chickens for his nephews’ bodies).

      So the question is less “Why do they joke about it?” than “Why do they portray this in a cartoon at all?” Because live action movies and society at large were telling the same jokes.

      Mel Brooks once said something to the effect that “Comedy is you slipping on a banana peel and fracturing your skull; tragedy is me getting a paper cut.” That’s generally been a prevalent attitude in human society; the cartoons just followed it and sugar-coated it with unreality.

    • Reminds me of what one podcaster said of all comedy to him was derived from pain, and that made perfect sense when I had to think back about what I liked about it. Cartoons simply followed that to a T and I never second guessed or questioned such deals that I see today’s crowd simply do on a daily basis.

    • Speaking of Dick Kinney, did he write/co-write the unfinished Goofy short where the “everyman” tries to kick the drinking habit? Korkis mentioned about this short in one of his Disney articles.

    • I agree that Alcoholism is not a funny matter, but Prohibition was not the answer. The public proved it. You can not stop alcoholics by telling them it is illegal, they need medical & emotional help.

      I am surprised that the Hayes Office never put their foot down on this matter. The silly things they objected to and on-screen drunkenness they overlooked. Makes you wonder if the Hayes Office was not manned by alcoholics.

      I am not an alcoholic, but I do enjoy a glass of beer once in a while, but just one. Prohibition would have prevented me from enjoying that glass and that is why I am against it. The alcoholics managed to find the alcohol during Prohibition, which proved it did not work.

    • Religion does pop up in cartoons occasionally, apart from its unavoidable institutional role in any scene involving a wedding ceremony. One example that comes to my mind is Clampett’s 1943 cartoon Tin Pan Alley Cats with its Salvation Army cats — even the spiritual they are singing is called “Give Me That Old Time Religion”. And God himself makes a guest appearance in Clampett’s Old Grey Hare of the following year!

  • To judge from early cartoons, alcohol and a blow to the head produced very similar feelings of incoherent euphoria. At least one Popeye cartoon got the same results when Bluto replaced the spinach with “loco weed.”

    A variation is to have a drunk character wander into a cartoon to do a reaction gag, like throwing away his bottle upon seeing something bizarre — or accepting it as normal. A drunk spots a pink elephant (real in the context of the cartoon), looks at his watch and slurs, “You’re late!” Drunks can also be annoyingly affable, usually singing. In an early Porky, a bunch of intoxicated fish climb into his boat and row it away, harmonizing “We Were Sailing Along on Moonlight River.”

    There are a few hangover cartoons.Popeye tries to silence a noisy city because his pappy is “sick”. A Chuck Jones mouse swipes a diamond because somebody refers to it as “ice”; he binds it to his head. And various characters will start a cartoon a bit bleary-eyed and muttering about a party; the implication being more than sleep depravation is at work.

    Hallucinations sometimes figure in drunk cartoons, but those can also be caused by food (ala Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend), cigarettes, reading matter or guilt.

  • Man, who’d have thought a thread about animated boozebags would be such a downer?

    • Sorry for having added iodine to the pain (of course Kausler started it).

  • Several years ago, I made new 35mm prints (at Sony) of a number of Scrappy cartoons, including THE BEER PARADE, a Hooray-For-Repeal epic which consists almost entirely of little boys serving suds to drunken elves. Pretty jaw-dropping even by today’s standards. Incidentally, it had the rarely-seen original titles, which would suggest it had (wisely) never been released to TV.

  • Well, I just have to mention a couple of incidents of rampant drunkenness in favorite classic cartoons, and both of ’em feature mice–the title character in “LITTLE CHEEZER” from MGM’s lavishly animated HAPPY HARMONIES series, most of which seemed clearly aimed at kids, is lured by his demon side into an evening of drunken debauchery and false bravado, daring himself to face off against “old bristle puss”, and quickly sobering up only after he finds himself face to face with the house cat…and then, there’s Warner Brothers’ “A HICK, A SLICK AND A CHICK” where the young “hick” mouse stumbles into a bottle of wine, and out again, seeing double as he faces the cat; yet he manages somehow to cut himself a fur coat out of the cat’s hyde. Hey, a good post could be devised featuring cartoons that clearly have the main characters indulging in all the seven deadly sins–all for the sake of comedy. It merely proved to me that cartoons were not just devised for kids, but we have these traits in characters of the TV age, too, where animation seemed to clearly be there as kids’ entertainment. I can’t really moralize about it, because I spent a great deal of my young life enjoying these cartoons without wallowing in those bad traits because, more than not, it seemed that characters got their comeuppance after over-indulgence in bad adult behavior, although you did sometimes wonder what was really on the animators’ minds when they featured such incidents. Oft times, these were nods to popular live action movies of the various studios involved, and we animation fans perceived some of these examples to be the animators’ rebellions of sorts against being pigeon-holed as Disney knock-offs. So there was something else going on, there. Definitely worth discussing further, folks.

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