Betty Boop gets a clown incredibly high. Donald Duck is a Nazi. Disney animators step in to explain the birds and the bees to a post-war generation of young women experiencing the first signs of puberty.
Here is but a brief glimpse into the top five weirdest cartoons of the past. Prepare to step into the void and in so doing, peer into the mid-20th century collective, twisted psyche of a young nation:
1) “Ha! Ha! Ha!” (1934)
In this 1934 classic, Betty Boop is left in cartoonist Max Fleischer’s studio overnight. Her clown friend Koko escapes from an inkwell. He eats a leftover candy bar, then develops a toothache.
Betty tries to perform amateur dentistry on him. In the process, she gives him laughing gas, but leaves the tank turned on. Everyone gets incredibly high, and Betty sings a song about it.
Ultimately, the offending tooth is forgotten.
2) “Der Fuehrer’s Face” (1943)
Donald Duck is a Nazi factory worker who suffers a nervous breakdown.
This cartoon was a bit of pro-American propaganda on the part of the Walt Disney Company and won the Oscar for best Short Animated Short in 1943. It was actually one of several anti-Nazi films put out by Disney during the war.
Living in der Fatherland, Donald does his best to help along the war effort. Employed at a German munitions factory, he works long hours and is subjected to messages about German superiority and the Aryan race throughout most of his day.
All of this pushes him to the brink of insanity and culminates in a fevered psychedelic Nazi dreamscape from which Donald awakens to find himself safely in bed and at home in America.
The film was made to help sell war bonds.
3) “The New Spirit” (1942)
This time Donald Duck is a patriotic American single father. In the midst of the wartime effort, Donald is told to pay his taxes. “It is your privilege — not just your duty, your privilege — to help your government by paying your tax and paying it promptly,” Donald is told by a radio announcer.
“Taxes for guns. Taxes for ships. Taxes for democracy. We need taxes to beat the Axis,” he is told.
Because he made $2,501 in 1943, Donald pays $13 to the IRS, which he personally delivers to Washington, D.C.
He claims deductions for his three dependents, his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, noting on the tax form that the three were adopted. (Who are we to question his progressive lifestyle?)
4) “The Story of Menstruation” (1946)
By 1946 the war was over, America was returning to normal, and Americans were getting back to work.
The first members of the baby boom generation had been born. The threat of global communism and the first signs of the Cold War were beginning to rear their ugly heads.
With a focus on the nuclear family unit, girls blossoming into womanhood were starting to question the changes their bodies were experiencing. Luckily, Walt Disney was there to explain it.
Disney animators covered a lot of ground in the 1940s … a lot of ground.
5) “Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat” (1941, re-released in 1948)
All the residents of Lazy Town are black people portrayed as half-monkey and half-human. (That’s not the most racist thing about this cartoon.)
A light-skinned, perhaps white woman, steps off a riverboat on a visit from New York. She admonishes the local washing woman for washing clothes so inefficiently. (This is also not the most racist thing about this cartoon.)
The light-skinned woman decides to sing about it. Everyone gets very excited, then joins in with their own impromptu song-and-dance routine.
Throughout the number, residents of the town are portrayed doing stereotypical things for no reason, like a bald character overjoyed to be eating a giant piece of watermelon. (There it is.)
“Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat” is a seven-minute unabashed tribute to the kind of racism that would make Al Jolson blush.
Forever immortalized in the annals of a history that Universal Pictures would rather forget, it is among several animated shorts created by Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies yanked from distribution in 1968 known as the “Censored Eleven.”