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The "Jasper" series of Puppetoons was made from 1942-1946, and even then were criticised for being racist. George Pal was a peaceful man who was shocked when people were offended --- he never intended to be hostile. Indeed, Pal had a great respect for African-American culture, particularly their music and folklore: he loved to incorporate Jazz music in his films, and of course, he filmed a wonderful adaptation of "John Henry".
People were (and still are) offended by the Jasper character's design, the fact that he lives in a shack with his "Mammy", and has such a gullible nature (although one could argue that gullible characters have been a mainstay of comedy throughout film history --- from Elmer Fudd to Forrest Gump).
Despite Pal's offence, the Jasper series features some of the best moments in all of the Puppetoons. Now that you are prepared, read on.
Jasper is a small African-American boy. He has a very wide-eyed, innocent view of the world, and has strange adventures no matter where he goes. I know of 15 Jasper Puppetoons (listed in the Pal Videography); I've only seen the following two:
Yes, this Jasper cartoon centers around the racist stereotypical use of "watermelons". I believe, however, that the humorous situation itself is color-blind; the real humor comes from watching a naive, innocent youth whose "eyes are bigger than his stomach."
Jasper, who lives in the country, is walking past the watermelon patch which his mother warned him away from, when a scarecrow starts speaking to him. The scarecrow tells Jasper not to bother with THOSE watermelons. Here's why.
[Please note, the scarecrow speaks in slang --- also, feel free to click on the scarecrow picture to download a 1.9 meg quicktime movie of the following speech (RECOMMENDED)]
"I know a place where there's big, ripe watermelons full of juice what just trickles down your chin! And they're all layin' round loose, just free for the taking! The place is just burstin' with watermelons! Burstin' with some of the biggest watermelons in the world! And some of 'em are bigger than that!
"The roads is paved with watermelons, and the trees... they ain't ordinary trees. They's big watermelons! The mountains? They ain't mountains. They's RE-AL-LY big watermelons. And when it rains, it rains sweeet watermelon juice. Why, the rivers, they run full up to the brim with pink watermelon juice!"
[During this speech, all that the scarecrow describes is shown in fantastic detail. They are transported to watermelon land].
"Of course, now, you ain't supposed to EAT any of 'em. You didn't eat any of that did you?" [Jasper is sitting among the remains of at least 1 huge watermelon --- he shakes his head "No", but hiccups and watermelon seeds pour out of his ears!] "We's in for it now!"
The skies go dark, and ominous watermelons come to life, singing, "Gonna be trouble in watermelon land tonight" Jasper and the scarecrow try to flee but are surrounded... they finally escape while the watermelons (which are the size of large buildings) are doing some sort of dance.
[Click this image for a 1.2 meg quicktime movie of Jasper's escape! (RECOMMENDED)].
Jasper runs all the way home, screaming, "Mommy! Mommy!"... finally, to calm him down, she sits him down at the table and serves a "big surprise"... watermelon! As Jasper looks down in dismay, he hears a familiar voice outside. He looks out to see the scarecrow talking to a dog.
[Click the dog for a 116k AIF sound file of this speech]
"I wouldn't be digging in this watermelon patch if I was you. Now I know a place where there's great, big, juicy hambones --- full of marrow what just trickles down your chin! And there's the crispest, freshest bones in the world! And the trees... they ain't just ordinary trees... they's...(SPLAT!) " Jasper flings the watermelon in the scarecrow's face! The end.
In "Jasper in a Jam," Charlie Barnett and Peggy Lee provide the music for a spooky, rainy night in which Jasper (visiting the big city) takes refuge in an old pawn shop. The proprietor is asleep... or something. The clock strikes 13... the female figurehead on a gilded harp comes to life, singing (in Peggy Lee's voice) "Old Man Mose is Dead"... With this introduction, everything in the shop comes to life in an animated Jazz frenzy... animal heads on the wall, totem poles, even the cigar indian, who (inaccurately) throws hachets at poor Jasper.
Click on the harp-woman for a 710k movie
When the song is over, Jasper gets away... the night watchmen comes into the pawn shop to find that "Old Man Mose" was just sleeping.
The totem pole comes to life... and doesn't look friendly! Click on him for a 1.2 meg movie
The wooden cigar indian wants to make Jasper dance...
This is a very energetic, imaginative Puppetoon, much in the spirit of Fleischer's
Betty Boop cartoons.
A scene from Jasper Tell, with the scarecrow preparing to shoot!
More Pal/Puppetoon Info from Animation of Heaven & Hell in 3-D!:
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This page was first posted December 1, 1996.