Cab Calloway Stars in “Minnie the Moocher,” a Trippy Betty Boop Cartoon That’s Ranked as the 20th Greatest Cartoon of All Time (1932)

The cast of Dave Fleis­ch­er’s 1932 car­toon, Min­nie the Moocher, above, are a far cry from the can­dy-col­ored ponies and sim­per­ing drag­ons pop­u­lat­ing today’s car­toon uni­verse.

There’s not much of a nar­ra­tive, and the clos­est thing to a moral is an unspo­ken “don’t be cokey.”

Who cares?

The lyrics to band­leader Cab Cal­loway’s crossover hit were ample excuse to send a rebel­lious Bet­ty Boop and her anthro­po­mor­phized pal, Bim­bo, on a trip­py jaunt through the under­world.

While there’s no evi­dence of Bet­ty or Bim­bo hit­ting the pipe, one won­ders what the ani­ma­tors were smok­ing to come up with such an imag­i­na­tive palette of ghouls.

The ghosts are pris­on­ers sport­ing chain gang stripes.

A witch with an out­sized head pre­fig­ures Miyaza­k­i’s com­mand­ing old ladies.

A blank-sock­et­ed mama cat, leached dry by her equal­ly eye­less kit­tens, con­jures the sort of night­mare vision that appealed to Hierony­mus Bosch.

The most benign pres­ence is a phan­tas­magoric wal­rus, mod­eled on a roto­scoped Cal­loway. The Hi De Ho Man cut a far svel­ter pres­ence in the flesh, as evi­denced by the live action sequence that intro­duces the car­toon.

Betty’s home sweet home offers near­ly as weird a land­scape as the one she and Bim­bo flee at film’s end.

Its many inor­gan­ic inhab­i­tants would have felt right at home in PeeWee’s Play­house, as would a self-sac­ri­fic­ing flow­er­ing plant, who suc­cumbs to a sam­ple of the hasenpf­ef­fer Betty’s immi­grant moth­er unsuc­cess­ful­ly urges on her. As for Bet­ty’s father, Fleis­ch­er struck a blow for teenagers every­where by hav­ing his head morph into a gramo­phone on which a bro­ken record (or rather, cylin­der) plays.

Min­nie the Moocher was vot­ed the 20th great­est car­toon of all time, in a 1994 sur­vey of 1,ooo ani­ma­tion pro­fes­sion­als. We hope you enjoy it now, as the ani­ma­tors did then, and audi­ences did way back in 1932.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Harlem Jazz Singer Who Inspired Bet­ty Boop: Meet the Orig­i­nal Boop-Oop-a-Doop, “Baby Esther”

Duke Ellington’s Sym­pho­ny in Black, Star­ring a 19-Year-old Bil­lie Hol­i­day

Hear 2,000 Record­ings of the Most Essen­tial Jazz Songs: A Huge Playlist for Your Jazz Edu­ca­tion

Bam­bi Meets Godzil­la: #38 on the List of The 50 Great­est Car­toons of All Time

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  She’ll be appear­ing onstage in New York City this June as one of the clowns in Paul David Young’s Faust 3. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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