Christopher P. Lehman
August 4, 2018 posted by Christopher Lehman

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Walter Lantz’s second “Lil’ Eightball” episode, Silly Superstition (1939), offers a more defined protagonist than in The Stubborn Mule, but there is little improvement over the first film. In Silly Superstition, Eightball more clearly appears as “Lil’,” because he is depicted as a child via the appearance of his mammy-like mother.

The cartoon begins with him running out of his run-down wooden shack, and his mother–in bandanna and apron, of course–steps to the front porch to warn him about the superstitions she believes. He laughs it off and tries to convince his pet dog to agree with him. The dog, incidentally, has prominent white lips, because Eightball and his mother do, too. Apparently, by cartoon logic, African American people own African American dogs.

Anyhow, after the African American identities of the leads are established, the cartoon continues with a series of mishaps that come from Eightball’s disobedience. He walks under a ladder, and a tall building crumbles. He lets a black cat cross his path, and a lion appears and chases him. As Eightball runs away bug-eyed and scared–another stereotypical African American trope–it is up to the dog to immobilize the lion and then scare it away. Eightball then realizes his mother was right and chuckles his annoying chuckle in amusement.

The cartoon gives more attention to visual ethnic signifiers than to audible ones. Eightball spends way more time speaking grammatically correct sentences than minstrel-type dialect. He does ask, “Is you a dog or a mouse?” and “Is you chasin’ me because it’s Friday the 13th or just because you’re a lion?” The music score also adds to the ethnic construction, for passages of Stephen Foster’s minstrel song “Oh, Susannah” play throughout the film.

Typically a cartoon star has years of prominence before becoming a second-banana in his or her own series. Max Fleischer’s Betty Boop and Leon Schlesinger’s Porky Pig started out with strong characterizations before their even funnier co-stars like Grampy and Daffy overshadowed them. Eightball, however, took a back seat to his dog after just the series debut. Nevertheless, Lantz decided to give the star one more try.

8 Comments

  • “Max Fleischer’s Betty Boop and Leon Schlesinger’s Porky Pig started out with strong characterizations before their even funnier co-stars like Grampy and Daffy overshadowed them.”

    You think Grampy was a funnier character than Betty Boop in her prime?? I’ll have to strongly disagree with that. The reason Betty Boop was eventually overshadowed by side characters was the 1934 Hays Code, which ruined the original conception and appeal of her character.

    • You’re right that the Hays Code weakened Betty Boop, but that is why Grampy was funnier than her and overshadowed her in the episodes where they appeared together. Grampy didn’t come along until after the Code.

  • Good to see him. Who is his voice?

    • Uncle Wayne – you know better than that… it’s Mel Blanc!

  • Limp pacing and lame script… he couldn’t sing???

  • Please DO JASPER after the Technicolor Eightball!

    He’s my favorite black character of the 40s next to Buzzy the Funny Crow!

    Here’s my amateurish formula in case you haven’t got the request showing you how many times I want you to review this series….

    x=please do jasper
    x(5)to the millionth power*1B=do it after the last Lil’ Eightball!

  • I actually kinda (gulp!) like this cartoon. True, it’s got those “black” voices that make you want to punch Mel in the throat, but it’s got some funny gags and staging, and “Is you chasin’ me because it’s Friday the 13th or just because you’re a lion?” is way more meta than a cartoon of this merit deserves. The next one, though, with the brazen lifts from Burt Gillet’s more famous ghost cartoon, is a classic of cartoon color and nonsense.

  • What year is the Lil Eightball tray puzzle? Just wondering if it was still being produced decades later.

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