Updated: 12/02/2016 07:57
Originally Hosted: 2/17/2008
Private Snafu is the title character of a series of black-and-white American
instructional cartoon shorts, ironic and humorous in tone, that were produced between 1943
and 1945 during World War II. The films were designed to instruct service personnel about
security, proper sanitation habits, booby traps and other military subjects, and to improve
The series was directed by Chuck Jones and other prominent Hollywood animators, and the
voice of Private Snafu was performed by Mel Blanc.
The character was created by director Frank Capra, chairman of the U.S. Army Air Force First
Motion Picture Unit, and most were written by Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel, Philip D. Eastman,
and Munro Leaf. Although the United States Army gave Walt Disney the first crack at creating
the cartoons, Leon Schlesinger of the Warner Bros. animation studio underbid Disney by two-
thirds and won the contract. Disney had also demanded exclusive ownership of the character,
and merchandising rights. The cartoons thus represented a multi-talent collaboration by some
of America's best in their respective fields; a common occurrence in the war effort.
The goal was to help enlisted men with weak literacy skills learn through animated cartoons
(and also supplementary comic books). They featured simple language, racy illustrations, mild
profanity, and subtle moralizing. Private Snafu did (almost) everything wrong, so that his
negative example taught basic lessons about secrecy, disease prevention, and proper military
Private Snafu cartoons were a military secret—for the armed forces only. Surveys to ascertain
the soldiers' film favorites showed that the Snafu cartoons usually rated highest or second
highest. Each cartoon was produced in six weeks. The shorts were classified government
documents. Martha Sigall, employed at the ink and paint department, recalled the government
security measures imposed on the staff working on them. They had to be fingerprinted and
given FBI security clearances. They also had to wear identification badges at work. Workers at
the ink and paint department were given only ten cels at a time in an effort to prevent them
from figuring out the story content.
The name "Private Snafu" comes from the unofficial military acronym SNAFU ("Situation
Normal: All F****d Up"), with the opening narrator in the first cartoon merely hinting at its
usual meaning as "Situation Normal, All ... All Fouled Up!"