Five fascinating examples of cartoons that prominently feature pool, pool playing or pool halls.
By Ellen Levitt
America’s Golden Age of animation began in the 1930s, an era almost precisely corresponding with the glory days of American pool. In 1935, not long after Willie Mosconi made his national tournament debut, Warner Brothers released its first Porky Pig cartoon. The studio followed in 1937 with Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd. Disney, meanwhile, released its first animated feature in 1933, and soon after introduced the fast-quacking Donald Duck to the world. These cartoon golden years were the same that saw Ralph Greenleaf win title after title, that saw pocket billiards rise so far in the public’s esteem that the sport drew national newspaper coverage.
Given pool’s success during the 1930s it’s not so surprising that depictions of the sport appeared in early Golden Age cartoon shorts. But pool also continued appearing during later years, as the medium matured. Tom and Jerry, Woody Pecker, Pinocchio, Big Bad Wolf and Donald Duck — each starred in pool-related cartoons, some depicting situations of bullying and revenge, some showing delinquent behavior and bravado.
Just below are five fascinating examples I’ve found of cartoons that prominently feature pool, pool playing or pool halls. And just keep reading to the end. Number five may surprise you.
In “Cue Ball Cat” (1950, Hanna-Barbera for MGM), Tom slips inside a pool hall and starts playing. He’s having fun and the scene has cartoony shtick, but then Tom awakens Jerry, whose has made a bed in one of the table pockets. The cat tortures the unfortunate mouse as he continues playing pool, and the action grows harsh. Finally the mouse turns the tables on the cat, and using the cue as a baseball bat, smacks the eight-ball into the Tom’s face. There are some funny visuals here, but overall I find it cruel. Judge for yourself here.
In the Woody Woodpecker cartoon “Cue the Pool Shark” (2002), innocent Woody is roped into a rigged match by Beaky Buzzard and his assistant, who uses a magnet to direct the path of the balls from underneath the table. After a few corrupt matches and embarrassing defeats, Woody gets wise to the sneaky Buzzard. They play a wildly unlikely set of games that ends with the Buzzard behind bars in the local jail. This cartoon, like the earlier Cue Ball Cat, portrays pool in a negative light; that is, as a vehicle to tease, bully or rip off unsuspecting rubes. Watch the video.
During the full-length Disney film “Pinocchio” (1940) there is a scene set in a pool hall. After he smokes a cigar, a canny pool shark shows Pinocchio tricks. The wooden boy tries to display his skills and rips a hole in the green. Poor Jiminy Cricket endures physical abuse during this scene. Here’s a link to that scene.
In the beginning of the Warner Brothers cartoon “Little Red Walking Hood” (1937), the Wolf plays pinball at a pool hall. He doesn’t play pool itself; the setting is more about the dicey environment. He leaves when he sees Little Red strolling outside. Pool is incidental to the storyline, but hey … it still counts.
“Math-Magic Land: Three Cushion Billiards, Advanced Lessons” (1959, Disney) is a mixture of animation with the famous Donald Duck, and live action with a male billiards expert. And best of all for pool and billiard history buffs: it focuses four-square on one of the most exquisite of cue games, three-cushion billiards. This instructional short cartoon emphasizes practice and planning, and introduces pool aiming fundamentals using the Diamond System. The short is a rarity among cartoons, in that it’s informative but not leaden. This is a great one. That’s it on the right.