How Hollywood Censored Its Animated Cartoons

The Hays office, and Hollywood cartoon producers, were just as mindful of young audiences back in the Golden Age of animation as broadcast standards and practices are today. This article, from Look magazine (January 17, 1939), produced with the full cooperation of Leon Schlesinger Productions, illustrates how the Hays Code operates in regards to animated cartoons.

Note the use of actual stills from classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies like Clean Pastures, Robin Hood Makes Good, Case of The Stuttering Pig, Speaking of the Weather, along with several cel set-ups created especially for this piece, to illustrate specific points like nudity, “the razzberry”, and cow udders. I can think of a half-dozen cartoons released around this time with all of the above. And note the line, “Neither may cartoons show men who appear too effeminate.” Clearly Egghead’s days were numbered.

Click on the gallery below to learn about the different ways that Hollywood censored its animated shorts:


  • http://classicanimation.blogspot.com Thad Komorowski

    Hmm, I remember Brian Cruz posted this article years ago… Thanks for sharing it!

    The top right comparison on page three, from “Buddy of the Legion”, actually DID show the girl as she appears in the ‘naughty’ image. It seems like the Warner guys were making fun of how much the censors missed the first time around with this article…

  • http://maketeanotwar.co.uk Gagaman

    Hahaha! I can’t even count how many times the Warner Cartoons must have broken those rules!

  • Christopher Cook

    The Hays Office itself would be the butt of a joke in the WB cartoon “A Tale Of Two Kitties” (1942), as Babbitt and Catstello go after Tweety: As Babbitt calls out “Give me the bird! Give me the bird!,” Catstello tells us, “If the Hays Office would only let me, I’d give him the bird, all right!”

  • Bugsmer

    This is a very interesting article. It’s nice to see parts of scenes and storyboards that were later discarded. It makes you wonder how long some of these cartoons were in the first place. So cows are immoral. I hadn’t known that before, or that public expectorate was frowned upon. It makes me wonder how Disney got away with nudity in Fantasia.

    Thanks, Jerry!

  • http://www.animationreplive.com Novid

    As you can see, nothing ever changes in the western world. It just goes through diffrent hands and different people and different enities. But the results are the same.

    What’s the diffrence between NOW and THEN? The Church isnt as strong as it once was, and now the menace we face is not a cenorship of natural accordances, but a cenorship of psychological intermittance. I.E. (you can say this or we cut your funding-the E/I junk laws- which is the greatest form of Cenorship ever devised) Fear has kept us from ever making our industry greater than it can ever be.

    The sad thing is its got to die out to the other forms of entertaiment before its rediscovered of merged with one of the forms less censored.

  • http://rachel-and-kevin.blogspot.com Rachel Newstead

    “It makes me wonder how Disney got away with nudity in Fantasia.”

    He didn’t, from what I remember reading. He had his animators put little brassieres on the centaurettes in Fantasia.

  • John A

    While the centaurettes were required to cover up by the Hays office, a couple of bare breasted demons from “Night on Bald Mountain” made it past the censors.

  • http://vice.parodius.com/ Dave Silva

    Cow boobs!

    Ahem.

    I’m actually surprised at the Mexican guy in the last two pages. I’m Mexican, and I don’t find it offensive. I actually find it hilarious… because the Peso really is that badly off against the Dollar.

    Not bitter, really.

  • AeC

    And yet in last night’s Family Guy, there was a scene in which Peter spat tobacco into Stewie’s mouth. My, how far we’ve come!

  • Paul

    The centaurettes either had garlands strategically placed or had nipple-ectomies.

  • http://geritopia.blogspot.com/ Gerit V

    This just proves what I’ve always suspected: you can walk around nude in public as long as you wear a smile and a cowbell.

  • http://www.davemackey.com Dave Mackey

    Odd that an article about censorship in cartoons is in a magazine with a half-naked girl on the cover.

  • http://classiccartoons.blogspot.com/ Duck Dodgers

    Marvellous post!!!
    By the way, if one watch chronologically the cartoons in the second “Mickey Mouse in Black and white” WDTs set, all the evolution of the portrait of cows in classic cartoons can be easily seen!

    Bit OT (forgive me for this) but, speaking of censored sequences from cartoons, I’m wondering if anyone of you guys have copy of the stills from the ending originally planned for “Red Hot Riding Hood”.
    The only seen still is the one featuring Avery celebrating the marriage between the wolf and Granny.
    Actually the rest of the ending is described in many books, so I wonder if stills are availabel to be seen……

  • Jenny

    John A. is right–and I’ll add that the uncovered, elaborately inked breasts in the “Bald Mountain” Fantasia sequence are far more explicit than the bare bosoms of the centaurettes would have been.
    You see those harpies and demonettes coming right up into the screen in Cinemascope–! It’s pretty wild(and I swear that every writer on Disney seems never to have sat through the film, as about 129 of them refer to the centaurette censorship to supposedly exemplify Disney’s prudery without mentioning the other scenes).

  • Uli Meyer

    Just by having this picture up on screen, you’d have broken the code. No kissing for more than a few seconds!

  • http://amymebberson.blogspot.com Amy Mebberson

    This is great – makes today’s political correctness look pretty tame.

    Amusing how Clean Pastures was censored for entirely different reasons than it is today.

    Sadly, Clarabelle never got her udders back. When we did Three Musketeers, she was still walking upright and wearing a full dress.
    And ended up romantically linked with Goofy – poor Horace Horsecollar ;)

  • http://mytwoyenworth.blogspot.com/ Michael Jones

    Whatever would the Hayes code people have thought of the transgendered bovines in Barnyard, squirting each other with milk?

  • http://home.comcast.net/~kiptw/ Kip W

    I have to dig for it, but I’ve got a very similar article (with one or two of the same examples) from (I think) Woman’s Day. Next time I turn it up, I’ll scan it to the animation image pool.

  • http://demianjohnston.blogspot.com Demian

    I love those drawings so hard. so beautiful.

  • http://www.io.com/~o_m/omworld OM

    …Just to show you how retarded the Hays Code – or any censorship code, for that matter – was, I submit these two points of comparitive logic:

    1) Egghead was too effeminate for the code, but Elmer Fudd *wasn’t*?

    2) And how about Bugs doing his Tranny act?

    …And as for poor Clarabell being udderly devastated, modern science can probably help her out. After all, they now make silicon dog testicles to replace those removed from poor mutts whose owners listened to the evil mantra of Bob Barker :-P

  • Chris Sobieniak

    - …And as for poor Clarabell being udderly devastated, modern science can probably help her out. After all, they now make silicon dog testicles to replace those removed from poor mutts whose owners listened to the evil mantra of Bob Barker :-P

    Of course then you get into that ugly territory over why don’t they make all beings anatomically correct in cartoons to begin with? It’s a subject I could live without but often wonder if it undermines the integrity of an animal if it’s attributes have to be humanized rather than to be rendered gender-neutral for the sake of impressionable viewers. While the cow udders seems less threatening to me, I often wonder how much more daring it could be if an animal’s organ of copulation/excretion/reproduction was intact to begin with, without seeming out-of-place or placed for toilet humor/explicit as is the case in some circles. Again, I can ramble on about it til I’m blue in the face, but I’ll leave it at that.

  • http://www.brilliantisland.com Robert

    I think it’s worth noting that all those Hays restrictions didn’t stop anyone from making entertaining cartoons. At least, the guys at Schlesinger’s weren’t too handicapped. But Ub Iwerks, without the restrictions, still couldn’t make Flip the Frog funny to save his life.

    Maybe the Hays office did them a favor by forcing them to be a bit more clever, a bit more sly.

  • Evil Paul

    What interests me is that the black character wasn’t being censored for being horribly racist, but for daring to depict God as black!

  • eye

    Thad Komorowski says, “The top right comparison on page three, from “Buddy of the Legion,” actually DID show the girl as she appears in the ‘naughty’ image.”

    Take a look at her belly button

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  • http://dmgermain.blogspot.com/ David Germain

    “We cannot forget that while the cartoon today is excellent entertainment for young and old, it is primarily the favorite motion picture fare of children. Hence, we always must keep their best interests at heart by making our product proper for their impressionable minds.”

    I’ll bet they held a gun to Leon’s head to make him say that. I wouldn’t put it past those Hays Office monkeys.

  • http://theworldofnexttuesday.blogspot.com/ the world of next tuesday

    Looking at the third panel of Flossie the Cow in 1939, I’m curious as to what degree the article was intended to be informative versus being tactfully satirical. Was there a renewed campaign around ’39 to stick to the letter of the Code for animation or was this a stealthy lampooning of the code being presented within an informative piece?

  • Paul

    Apparently the Hayes office was so busy covering up cow udders that they never caught on to the cannon gag used by practically every studio: A cannon fires, goes limp, then regains its original shape in order to fire again. Maybe the inference was too abstract for them.

  • Matt Sullivan

    Obviously some of the sterotypes in this article are pretty awful, you gotta admit.

    However just reading this makes me wonder if the whole standards and practices debacle isn’t part of the reason American animation is languishing. We are so used to being censored, that I think most animation creators censor themselves from the start. We KNOW we’re gonna be censored, so maybe on a subconscious level we censor our work beforehand, and that may also apply to our IDEAS.

    We need to push the boundaries of our art, AND our ideas. ( And no I don’t mean we should be making pr0n :} )

  • Todd

    I found myself thinking along the lines of the commenter above, who wondered if a bit of stealthy lampooning was taking place. Many of the classic animated pieces were a bit on the subversive side, and delighted in poking a bit of fun at “the Man.”
    So it must have been fun to use the magazine medium to show viewers what, exactly, was being excised from their animated entertainment, while making the Hayes folks look faintly ridiculous in the process. (No razz-berries? C’mon!)

  • http://bayli.kieleke.net Bayli

    It’s quite funny when you compare American and Japanese animation industry. Although Japanese began making their animations much later on they addressed many serious things almost from the beginning of the industry. In the meantime American industry (until as far as 90′s I believe, maybe even still does) saw lots of effort to “protect” the young from all the possible harms that might cause the kids to turn into raving killers.. or something.

    This hasn’t happened in Japan although they keep on showing nude people there and such. (even if it’s not hentai or such). I prefer the Japanese method.. why make such a huge fuss over things that are part of all the people. I understand if smoking or such is censored to depromote smoking, but other stuff that I’ve seen being edited is bit like comparing the Creation theory to Darwinism.

    Wikipedia link: Editing of anime in American distribution

  • Todd

    No one is seriously suggesting that American animation was exclusively controlled by the Hayes code (in the ’30s or otherwise). Risky or edgy animation has always existed in America, heck, we pioneered a lot of the forms prevalent today. Check out Heavy Metal (the first one) or Fritz the Cat. And as I recall, Speed Racer wore pants.
    The issue was whether the animated stories could air in public movie theaters alongside movies children were allowed to see, and how standards change over time regarding what is considered appropriate.
    For instance, your suggestion that smoking be censored in order to “depromote” smoking. Never would have been considered. Probably still a bad idea; artistic freedom and all. There is a difference between an artist who believes smoking is bad for you and thus does not illustrate smoking in his pieces, and having a government office somewhere “editing” finished product.
    And some things have never been appropriate for children. Like cow udders, for instance. I mean, who wants to see that? :)

  • http://- J Ludwick

    The comments are really great on this, and I hate to ‘dumb it down’, but cow teats too sexual for kids? What was John K saying about Cartoon Executives? The comments of the Hays people seem comparable to today’s Anthropologically-educated.

  • Bugsmer

    “Take a look at her belly button.”

    You’ll also notice that in the rejected picture, her legs are showing through her skirt, something almost as bad as showing a belly button. Barbara Eden showed neither.

  • http://www.warnerart.com Eric

    Fantastic post. These are the treasures that would go largely unseen and forgotten if it weren’t for Cartoonbrew! A great peek back in time.

  • http://mog.com/fairportfan mike weber

    The comments about “giving the bird” remind me that the word “raspberry” is brit “rhyming slang” – it’s part of a phrase that rhymes with the name of something but the actual rhyme is left off – thus “feet” become “plates [of meat]“. The full phrase alluded to in regard to the bronx cheer was “raspberry tart”.

    For this reason, BBC radio originally banned Spike Jones’s “Dre Fuehrer’s Face” (“We ‘Heil!’ [prrrrp!] ‘Heil!’ [prrrp!] right in der Fuehrer’s face!”) .. but had to lift eh ban when it turned up in theatres as the soundtrack to an American (FOnald Duck, i believe) cartoon a little later.

    Betty Boop was subjected to significant censorship; of course, her whole shtick was pretty much sexual anyway; her first appearance, “Bimbo’s Initiation” is full of castration images, and the cartoons with Cab Calloway soundtracks (particularly “Old Man of the Mountain”, referenced in “Nightmare Before Christmas) are amazingly surreallist/expressionist/freudian, to say the least. Betty at least once accused her captors (possibly police – it’s been a while since i saw it) of being uninterested in her sexually – “You didn’t even try to hidey-hidey me!” she sings.

    And let us not forget that Tweetie Bird was originally pink, but recoloured yellow because someone thought he was naked.

    But if you think this Hays Office-era censorship was bad – you need to take a look at what Warner’s and CBS did to the cartoons in the “Bugs Bunny Show” package over a period of years and rereleases, censoring mainly for “offensive” images and violence – complete forms of some of them may no longer exist at all.

    And just try to show the (brilliant) Inki and the Mynah Bird shorts anywhere these days.

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  • http://pfay110705.fortunecity.com ThePeterNetwork

    This is quite a brilliant article, although I do recall watching the mermaid cartoon, and the mermaids were quite topless, particularly the mer-children, but then again, that would be natural I think. I would have to check my tape just to make sure.

  • Keith Paynter

    Paul mentioned the cannon gag – prime example: Blitz Wolf, and the Smart Pig goes as far as to feed the spent cannon a bottle of Vitamin E pills, and, faster than you can say “b-o-i-n-n-n-g!!”, it’s ready for the next assault!

    The Hays Office was so concerned with “female” nudity, but never went after the masculine Porky Pig or Donald Duck for not wearing pants !?! Too bad (as Mike mentioned) the “naked genius” Tweety went from pink to canary yellow.

  • Sadie

    We had the era of the Hays code, then a very liberated era and now it seems we are in a very politicly correct era where yes, funding depends on content.
    I don’t know if anyone remembers “Fritz the Cat” but I can’t help but wonder what kind of reception that cartoon would recieve in this politicly correct time in history.
    It was made in a time when it seemed like there was a lot more freedom for animators.

    As far as a more recent example:
    American Dad had an episode set in the middle east (Saudi I think) where the Wife decided to get all liberated right in the town square.
    I was just rolling over laughing during this episode.
    The network must have caught a lot of flak for being brave enough to show that episode.

  • http://www.sh8cale.org/pianoforte pianoforte

    Nice site. Thanks.

  • Stephen Tropiano

    Does anyone know what cartoon the image of the boy giving the razzberry comes from? Also, any other examples from pre-code cartoons of the Razzberry (I have found a few!)?

  • Barbara from B.C.

    The original Betty Boop predates the Hayes Code AFAIK. It had both sexy and frightening images, not to mention a few illicit drug references in the Minnie the Moocher episode.

  • Stephen Cooke

    Is it just me, or does the raspberry kid on page 3 bear a striking resemblance to Tex Avery?

  • Nicolas Orizaga

    “raspberry” (tart) means “fart”??

    like in Ocean’s 11 when Don Cheadle says they’re in “Barney” (Rubble) for “trouble”????

    interesting….

    • Barking Bud

      Yes. Exactly right.

  • lara

    I watched some of the “Censored 11″ cartoons on youtube, and got an insite into racism that I never had. I had no idea what people had to endure. Because of the censorship, a part of history is washed over…washed out. It puts perspective on the 30s and 40s, then the civil rights of the 50s and 60s.

  • Zeta

    Does anyone know the original author? Any help will be greatly appreciated!

  • Jacob Johnson

    God I hate censorship.