I Love to Singa is both the title of a song written by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg and a later Merrie Melodies animated short subject based on that song. Arlen and Harburg originally wrote the tune for the 1936 Warner Bros. feature-length film The Singing Kid. It is performed three times in the film: first by Al Jolson and Cab Calloway, then by the Yacht Club Boys and Jolson, and finally again by Calloway and Jolson.
During this period, it was customary for Warners to have their animation production partner, Leon Schlesinger Productions, make Merrie Melodies cartoons based upon songs from their features. The resulting short subject, I Love to Singa, was directed by Tex Avery and released by Warners on July 18, 1936. The cartoon, one of the earliest Merrie Melodies produced in Technicolor, is recognized as one of Avery's early masterpieces.
I Love to Singa depicts the story of a young owlet who wants to sing jazz instead of indulging in his parents more traditional and stodgy tastes, such as Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes to piano accompaniment. The owlet is kicked out of the house by his disciplinary father, Fritz Owl, and he runs off to enter a radio amateur contest. Fritz's wife hears her son on the radio, and she and the rest of the family went to see their son. When the owlet found out about their family's presence, he started singing Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes. The radio show host was then about to activate the trap door, until Fritz suddenly realized his son's true potential and allowed him to freely sing jazz. The owlet received first prize for the contest.
The cartoon is loaded with throwaway jokes, a technique which would soon become Avery's trademark:
- While waiting for his eggs to hatch, Fritz Owl paces up and down until he creates a trench in the floor.
- While kicking his son out of the house, Fritz Owl rants "You hotcha! You crooner! You falsetta! You jazz singer! You...you...you...!" He slams the door, then suddenly reopens it to add "...phooey!"
- The radio show host is a rabbit named Jack Bunny, an obvious reference to Jack Benny or Jack Rabbit. However, the auditions themselves and the moderator's rude dispatch of untalented contestants appear to be a takeoff on another popular radio show of that era, Major Bowes Amateur Hour.
- The radio station call letters are G-O-N-G, another Major Bowes-type reference.
- One of the amateur show contestants is a rotund Chicken|hen. She steps to the microphone, and immediately begins singing in an impossibly tiny voice. The buzzer is rung on her and the trap door that ejects losing contestants is activated, but she is much too wide to fall all the way through the trap door, so she continues singing while stuck in the trap door at the midsection. Jack Bunny takes the matter into his own hands, and swiftly conks the hen across the head with a mallet, knocking her down the trap door.
- The stuttering voice of one contestant (Simple Simon) was provided by Joe Dougherty, who was a real-life stutterer and the first voice of Porky Pig. This is the only cartoon in which his normal voice is heard. (His recordings were sped-up for Porky.)
- While listening to the police band radio broadcast, Fritz's wife worries aloud "I wonder if they found my little boy," to which the policeman heard on the radio replies, "No, we didn't, lady!"
- Twice during the cartoon, Fritz Owl says, "Enough is too much!" which is a malapropism, since "enough," by definition, can not be "too much."
The I Love to Singa cartoon has taken on something of a cult classic in recent years. In the "Cartman Gets an Anal Probe" episode of the adult cartoon South Park, Eric Cartman and Officer Barbrady lapse into Owl Jolson's odd song-and-dance routine whenever they get hit with an alien beam. In general, the excessively rounded faces of the South Park characters echo those of early cartoon characters, including the owls in I Love to Singa. In Warners' 2003 film Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Owl Jolson's dance sequence from I Love to Singa repeatedly appears on the ACME chairman's video screen, since he cannot properly operate his remote control. It is a special feature in the Happy Feet DVD, possibly because the plot is similar to that of Happy Feet.