Bosko Bitch

THE BOOZE HANGS HIGH — not just a terrible pun, but one that doesn’t even work — is the fourth Looney Tune ever made or released. It begins in the darkness of a cow’s ass, slowly emerging into daylight as the cow saunters away from the camera, now irrevocably soiled and fit only for photographing Chester Morris.

The cow starts dancing with our protagonist, Bosko, a little dog/monkey/blackface minstrel boy. Then the cows skin trousers fall down, along with the udder attached to them, exposing the bovine bloomers beneath. Seems like Termite Terrace had their thing worked out pretty good from the start. Of course the more familiar characters haven’t been dreamed up yet, but the grotesque, vulgar surrealism is front and centre.

Soon Bosko is playing his horse’s tail like a fiddle, in the animals-abused-as-musical-instruments motif popularized by Mickey Mouse. (Mickey is clearly going to grow up to be a psychopath.)

The idea that animals are all secretly wearing clothes continues — perhaps the secret of cartoon anthropomorphism is that they’re all people wearing animals costumes — or at least, DRAWINGS of animal costumes. A duckling has to go poop so the parent duck lowers its backflap to reveal the duckling’s tiny human arse.

The plot — the thing to do with booze — doesn’t start until the toon is halfway over, with the discovery of a black bottle of XXX by a happy piglet. Soon the swine are swallied, or sloshed if you prefer. The large pig throws the bottle away and glasses poor Bosko in the best Begbie tradition. This of course makes Bosko drunk, all though concussion may also be playing a role.

When the pig pukes up a corn on the cob, he reinserts it through a door in his abdomen, which throws my theory about cartoon animals being people in drawn animal costumes into confusion. Apparently cartoon animals are really buildings.

The film ends, as mysteriously as it began, with Bosko singing with the inebriated pigs. But it appears we now have an explanation for the iris ending of most WB cartoons — it’s a call back to the film’s opening, a reverse angle — the cow is now behind the camera, backing into it, and its rectum is decisively enclosing the lens in its Stygian grip.

8 Responses to “Bosko Bitch”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Being that “Bosko” is a racist caricature his complete eradication is greatly deired

  2. His existence calls into question whether Mickey Mouse might not also be a blackface caricature. The black features and white around the mouth… then again, these were black and white cartoons.

    But Bosko was copyrighted with the description “little Negro boy” so it was pretty conscious in his case, and the voice was a caricatured Southern African-American accent. The monkey-like attributes definitely don’t improve matters.

    But I’m all for preserving these things as testimony to the horrific attitudes of the time, so long as they’re not being used as kid’s entertainment or to encourage modern racists (who mostly wouldn’t be caught dead watching b&w toons.

  3. Awesome, but still upsetting. I wanted the Nicholas Bros to drag the blackfaced chump off screen — sound of clattering and thumping — then they return dusting their palms and go back into their dance.

  4. bensondonald Says:

    Many early characters — the animals, anyway — were rendered with black rubber-hose bodies for ease of drawing and to provide a strong silhouette. Even Koko the Clown, in his earliest rotoscope form, was defined by the big black mass that represented his baggy costume.

    Bosko may have been officially a black human, but there was nothing in voice or performance to differentiate him from Mickey, Foxy, Oswald (handed over to Walter Lantz), and other critters. When Bosko’s creators went to MGM, they redesigned him as a “real” black child with a little-kid voice.

    Cartoons like this weren’t really meant for kids. They were meant for the largely adult movie audience. And like the earliest Keystones, they often rode on the sheer novelty of movement and violence, complemented by sound and a capacity for random impossibility.

    In retrospect it’s shocking what got relegated to kiddie matinees and the electric babysitter. Saucy Betty Boops, raucous WWII Loony Tunes, Tex Avery’s MGM madness … in “Plane Crazy” Minnie fights off a horny Mickey. Soon enough they were all made primarily for children (with an eye towards parental approval), but most of the early, meant-for-grownups stuff slipped into television packages.

  5. Bosko got brought back in ANIMANIACS in the ‘90s, as Yakko, Wakko and Dot’s nemesis, weirdly enough. He was turned into a Mickey Mouse-esque fuddy dduddy who hated the ANIMANIACS.

  6. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Fayard Nicholas named his brother “Harold” in tribute to his favorite movie star — Harold Lloyd

  7. Bosko’s first appearance, a kind of demo reel in which he banters with animator Rudolph Ising, was designed to showcase his speech, “Well, heah I is and I shoh feels good.” The voice was moderated away from Kingfish stereotypes later, but traces remained for a few years.

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