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October 15, 2007

Amazing Chiquita banana cartoon from the 1940s

Images from the ASIDA-Hollywood Animation Archive. Read the full post for direct links and downloadable (!!!) cartoons.

In the 1940s, as disease ravaged banana plantations in Latin America, the major banana companies implemented strategies to convince consumers to buy their particular brand of fruit. The Chiquita banana campaign was, and is, one of the most successful in marketing history. The singing, dancing, sexy fruit was based on the real-screen cinema exploits of Brazilian bombshell Carmen Miranda, who'd famously cavorted with man-sized bananas in the 1942 Busby Berkeley musical, “The Gang’s All Here.”

The original Miss Chiquita Banana first appeared as a print-medium character (drawn by Dik Brown, who’d later create “Hagar the Horrible.”) But this animated short - from 1947 - takes the strategy over the top. In it, Miss Chiquita saves a jungle explorer from cannibals by offering a delicious casserole made from the fruit she represented (there's so much wrong with all of this, ranging from the offensive to the truly bizarre: the cannibals are thick-lipped Africans; Miss Banana is offering her own flesh in sacrificial trade.)

The cartoon attempts to broaden the banana market by suggesting that the food is more than a snack or breakfast-table only treat. And while the careless racism of the cartoon is something that was common to the mass media of the time, it becomes darker when produced by a banana company that, for decades, had exploited workers in the fruit-producing nations (at the time the cartoon was released, the industry was pioneering the use of one of the most toxic pesticides ever employed - it was called Bordeaux Mixture - that sterilized, maimed, and killed workers and their families.)

The cartoons and images below are hosted at the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive, a group that has been instrumental in preserving classic cartoons and comics. It is one of my favorite websites, with volume after volume of little-seen animations, most available for direct viewing or download. Four banana shorts are available at the archive's Chiquita Page.

For a bit more information on the Chiquita cartoon, visit Mark Evanier's website, POVonline .

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