Private Snafu is the title character of a series of black-and-white American instructional cartoon shorts produced between 1943 and 1945 during World War II. The character was created by director Frank Capra, chairman of the U.S. Army Air Force First Motion Picture Unit, and some of the shorts were written by Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel. Although the United States Army gave Walt Disney Studios the first crack at creating the cartoons, Leon Schlesinger of the Warner Bros. animation studio underbid Disney by two-thirds and won the contract. Disney had also demanded exclusive ownership of the character, and merchandising rights.
Most of the Private Snafu shorts are educational, and although the War Department had to approve the storyboards, the Warner directors were allowed great latitude in order to keep the cartoons entertaining. Through his irresponsible behavior, Snafu demonstrates to soldiers what not to do while at war. In "Malaria Mike", for example, Snafu neglects to take his malaria medications or to use his repellant, allowing a suave mosquito to get him in the end—literally. In "Spies", Snafu leaks classified information a little at a time until the Germans and Japanese piece it together, ambush his transport ship, and literally blow him to Hell. Later in the war, however, Snafu's antics became more like those of fellow Warner alum Bugs Bunny, a savvy hero facing the enemy head-on. The cartoons were intended for an audience of soldiers (as part of the bi-weekly "Army-Navy Screen Magazine" newsreel), and so are quite risqué by 1940's standards, with minor cursing, bare-bottomed GIs, and plenty of scantily clad (and even semi-nude) women. The depictions of Japanese and Germans are quite stereotypical by today's standards, but were par for the course in wartime U.S. Nine of the Snafu shorts feature a character named Technical Fairy, First Class. The Technical Fairy is a crass, shirtless, miniature G.I. whose fairy wings bear the insignia of a Technical Sergeant. He would appear and grant Snafu's wishes, most of which involve skipping protocol or trying to do things the quick and sloppy way. The results typically end tragically, with the Technical Fairy teaching Snafu a valuable lesson about proper military procedure. In the 1944 Snafuperman, the Technical Fairy transforms Private Snafu into the superhero Snafuperman, who takes bungling to a super-powered level through his carelessness. The Snafu shorts are notable because they were produced during the Golden Age of Warner Bros. animation. Directors such as Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, and Frank Tashlin worked on them, and their characteristic styles are in top form. P. D. Eastman was a writer and storyboard artist for the Snafu shorts. Voice characterizations were provided by the celebrated Mel Blanc (Private Snafu's voice was identical to Blanc's Bugs Bunny characterization). Toward the end of the war, other studios began producing Snafu shorts as well (the Army accused Schlesinger of padding his bills), though some of these never made it to celluloid before the war ended. The Snafu films are also partly responsible for keeping the animation studios open during the war—by producing such training films, the studios were declared an essential industry.
After the war, the Snafu cartoons went largely forgotten. Prints eventually wound up in the hands of collectors, and these form the basis for The Complete, Uncensored Private Snafu, a VHS and DVD collection from Bosko Video. For a long time, Bosko's compilation was the only one available, but it has been criticized for the poor quality of its transfer. Warner Home Video included Private Snafu shorts as bonus material on three of their Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD sets. Three, Spies, Rumors, and Snafuperman, were included on the third volume. Three more, The Goldbrick, The Home Front, and Censored were included on the fourth volume, and two more, Coming!! Snafu and Gripes, were included on the fifth. In 2011, Thunderbean Animation released Private Snafu Golden Classics on DVD, using the original masters where possible.
The name "Private Snafu" comes from the unofficial military acronym SNAFU, for "Situation Normal: All F!@#$&% Up." This was deemed too-strong language even for their target audience, so the opening narrator merely hinted at its meaning: "Situation Normal, All Fouled Up!" While Private Snafu was never officially a theatrical cartoon character when the series was launched in 1943 (with the debut short Coming! Snafu, directed by Chuck Jones), he (or technically, his prototype) does appear, unnamed and in color, in Jones' cartoon The Draft Horse, released theatrically one year earlier, on May 9, 1942. This appearance would serve as the basis for Snafu's character in the series. In 1946, a series of cartoons for the Navy featuring Private Snafu's brother "Seaman Tarfu" (for "Things Are Really F*cked Up") was planned, but the war came to a close and the project never materialized, save for a single cartoon entitled "Private Snafu Presents Seaman Tarfu in the Navy".  In the cartoon 'Three Brothers", it is revealed that Snafu has two brothers, a carrier pigeon keeper named Tarfu and a dog trainer named Fubar (for "F*cked Up Beyond All Repair").
The 24th film of the series, Going Home, produced in 1945, was never released. The premise is what damage could be done if a soldier on leave talks too much about his unit's military operations. In the film, Snafu discusses a "secret weapon" with his girlfriend which was unnervingly (and unintentionally) similar to the atomic bombs under development that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It has since been uploaded on Youtube, in full.
In the Private Snafu cartoon Gas and Three Brothers, there is a cameo appearance of Bugs Bunny.
In the Animaniacs episode "Boot Camping", a character looking very much like Private Snafu makes a cameo.
In the Futurama episode "I Dated a Robot", Private Snafu is featured on the building mounted video screen for a few seconds in the opening credits.
Private Snafu is killed in six of his shorts due to his stupidity; They are Spies (literally blown to hell by enemy submarine torpedoes), Booby Traps (blown up by a bomb hidden inside a piano, plus blown up by his angelic harp that was somehow boobytrapped), The Goldbrick (run over by an enemy tank), A Lecture on Camoflague (large enemy bomb lands on him), Private Snafu vs. Malaria Mike (malaria), and Going Home (run over by a street car after he ironically stated that whoever was responsible for the leaks should suffer that fate).
Private Snafu loves beautiful women. In the short Outpost he dreams of a beautiful woman singing a song three times.
Because the !@#$ed Up in the SNAFU acronym was changed to "Fouled Up", TARFU stands for "Thing Are Really Fouled Up" and FUBAR stands for "Fouled Up Beyond All Repair".