In order to understand Bosko you have to understand his time. He was a product of the early sound era in film. His pilot cartoon, Bosko The Talk-Ink Kid, was the first to sync speech. (Steamboat Willie synced audio but no dialogue.) This was an interesting time for animation as things were new and studios were just being founded. Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising had worked with Disney before setting out on their own. They eventually signed a contract with Leon Schlesinger to produce cartoons for the Warner Bros. Bosko’s design is common for his time. He’s a simple character comprised of mostly black with a white face, similar to Felix the Cat or Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. He sings, dances, and in his early appearances speaks in a stereotypical blackface minstrel voice. Eventually Harman and Ising had a falling out with Schlesinger and moved to MGM, taking Bosko with them. Though you could possibly argue he was supposed to be more of an ink blot or some kind of bug in the Warner cartoons, at MGM he was redesigned into an obvious black boy character.
The whole concept of Warner Bros. cartoons is fascinating even when only seen on a business level. You had animators who sold their cartoons to somebody who sold them to a bigger studio. This bigger studio in turn showed these shorts in their own theaters before their own films and used them to advertise songs the studio owned in their catalogue. Today commercial tie-ins can seem blatantly obvious at times. But think back to the early days of animated cinema or, heck, even back to early television. Frugal spending resulted in airing older films and limited animation which later became a style of it’s own – a time when one sponsor could own an entire program.
I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s when these types of cartoons were still being shown regularly on TV. I remember when Nickelodeon relaunched their cartoon block to focus on the more popular Warner Bros. characters and cartoons, even using the tagline, “No Bosko. Sorry, Bosko.” It made me kind of sad, actually. Yes the Bosko cartoons are pretty pointless and bland. Yes they’re basically animators jiggling their keys in front of early audiences to make them oo and ah. Yes the designs are often ugly and offensive. But to see them gone to make room for the Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales or Bunny and Claude cartoons of the 1960s was depressing. I find it much more surreal to watch zanny films of a bygone era that show the heavy influence of long forgotten vaudeville acts, personally.
Bosko The Talk-Ink Kid is similar to the Max Fleischer Out of the Inkwell films, with Ising drawing Bosko, the drawing coming to life, and then some nonsense to show off Harman and Ising’s ability to animate silliness to sound. I find this sort of novelty charming in other cartoons when it’s used well. (WB’s own You Oughta Be In Pictures a decade later and the pilot of Tiny Toon Adventures later still being good examples) Here it’s brief and defaults to Bosko getting very annoying very quickly before he’s sucked back into the pen. I could see some indie animator today drawing their own characters fighting with them so it’s probably still a decent sales pitch.
Sinkin’ In The Bathtub is the first ever Looney Tune. We see Bosko courting his girl Honey and riding down the hills in a bathtub. Because you see, they were both taking a bath when they first appeared on screen. Because what better way to introduce your characters to an audience than to show them totally naked? And bathtubs are funny. Why are you asking questions? Do you not see us jiggling our keys? Don’t ask questions of our shenanigans. I think the highlight of the whole thing is Bosko sliding down a mountainside with a series of rocks directly in front of him resulting in a continuous run of crotch-shots. Because nothing makes a hit in the junk funnier than repeating it vigorously.
Cartoons like these should be preserved and shown for historical purposes and so that they might encourage future spoofs like the Fairly OddParent’s “The Good Old Days!” episode. Though thin on story they at least have a lot going on onscreen. (Compare that to the subsequent Buddy cartoons that followed after Harman and Ising took Bosko to MGM.) Without them there would be no “That’s all, folks!” so they deserve some place in history.