Cartoon Hell #28 – “Uncle Tom and Little Eva”

December 24, 2009

Cartoon Hell is TheKarpuk’s attempt to review every single installment in an awful $5 collection called “150 Classic Cartoons” purchased at his local Wal-Mart. Your prayers are welcome.

Don't let the animals fool you, it's exactly what it sounds like.

Don't let the animals fool you, it's exactly what it sounds like.

The first feeling I got when I looked at this title was utter dread. It has “Uncle Tom” in the title, and as previous entries have shown, this Mill Creek collection isn’t shy about throwing in some blatantly racist cartoons. Seeing a title surrounded by friendly animals gave me some hope that they were referencing an entirely different sort of uncle.

 It begins on a steamboat, which of course moves to the music. A perilously familiar looking mouse is playing a series of wiener dogs like a musical instrument. I was going to include that innocuous image, but it was immediately replaced by this: 

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the "good old days" of cartooning.

Oh my dead lord, it’s worse than I thought. Put on your protective gear ladies and gentlemen, this cartoon is in full minstrel-mode! Some of you who may not have watched as many racist cartoons might not think, at first blush, that this could just be southern animals, not southern black animals. The minstrel iconography is definitely there, both in fashion, and in the fact that they’re lounging about stereotypically slurping on watermelon. Let me clarify with the following image: 

Children love nothing more than grueling, back-breaking labor.

Yes, these black children are picking cotton. Picking. Cotton.

This seems like it could have been the old logo for a southern brand of bubble-gum.

They’re dancing while another plucks a single string guitar. We then get a surreal image of a black, white-lipped face peering out eerily from an open watermelon. I’m honestly a little creeped out.

 We finally meet Uncle Tom, who’s playing a flute using a shoe as a mute. Beyond the obvious problems, the cruddy drawing offends almost as much.

 Uncle Tom asks a girl where Little Eva is, and when the elephant in a brightly colored dress appears, I gained a sneaking suspicions that it was supposed to be a white girl. 

A mustache can't help but communicate something.

The menacing slavedriver appears and whips Tom’s hat. A wah-wah trumpets noise communicates his anger, even though Tom was able to communicate using ordinary words. Is this like Peanuts? Are they saying that white people talk is unintelligible?

Man, I wish I could be a slave, it just looks so darn fun.

One of the awful ironies that this cartoon reminds us of is that Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a abolitionist tale, was regularly adapted into hideously racist minstrel shows. The fact that the cartoon is trying to portray the black characters as sympathetic creates a giant whale-size load of dissonance because of how horribly they’re all drawn. Slaves singing while they’re led to an auction in chains? A ragged slave doing a soft shoe on the auction block? Seriously?

 The auction block almost seems to be a talent show. The slave owners chant something I could only half make out, something like, “We want hymens!” I sincerely doubt that’s a correct interpretation.

 After the slave driver twangs his mustache, we cut to a slave woman with her child, who for no explained reason scream and run for the hills. The call goes out, and adorable bloodhounds are sicked on the mother.

Wacky.... and sad.... and yet still wacky.

A crazed looking slave on the ice holding a infant. The height of comedy, right? Making the dogs dance on the ice, and the slave owner bounce along on his boat doesn’t instantly make it delightful.

As with many old cartoons, once the set up is in place, it’s guaranteed that several minutes will be spent on musical, completely unfocused hijinks. Having them focused on dogs hunting a slave through the snow doesn’t make it easier.

When Uncle Tom hears that someone is in trouble, he leaps into action, swinging a gigantic ball and chain along with him. He saves the slave woman and drops his ball and chain unto the slaveholders boat, knocking it down to the bottom of the waterfall.

Taken as a still image, this happy ending actually seems really tragic.

And it ends with the whole gang singing “I Wish I Was In Dixie”, and they lived happily ever after?

 UNPC Moment:

 It’s easier to point out what isn’t offensive. The image of the steamboat, and the bit with the hounds. That’s it.

 Rating: Nearly Unwatchable

 There’s something uniquely twisted about telling a story where slaves are supposed to be the sympathetic characters while using the most blatantly racist imagery. That combined with the crude drawings made this damn difficult to watch.

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