10,000 Jets

On Christmas Eve, my sister shared an old cartoon she remembered watching when we were kids. It’s a Tex Avery cartoon called Little Johnny Jet (1953). When were kids, we had a handful of VHS tapes filled with cartoons we taped off the TV—and most of them were from before our time. In this cartoon, John, a V-29 airplane, struggles to find work. He comes home to his wife, Mary, who announces she’s pregnant by showing him a small airplane she knitted. John, although happy, becomes even more desperate to find work. Mary suggests he re-enlist in the military (he is a WWII V-29 Vet), but they reject him because they’re only interested in hiring jets. When John’s son is born, he looks like a V-29, but he’s also a jet. This enrages John. There’s a funny scene in the cartoon where little Johnny zooms back and forth above the breakfast table as John tries to read the newspaper. Mary holds up a spoonful of food and it disappears as little Johnny flies by. When he flies by again, she removes his dirty diaper. When he flies by once more, she holds up a clean diaper and it disappears. John reads in the paper that the government is holding a race around the world for airplanes—and the winner gets a government contract. John enters the race. Mary, afraid for her husband’s safety, tries to stop him, but he shoves her away. Little Johnny climbs out of his stroller and literally gets inside his dad. Watching this cartoon for the first time in many years, what I noticed the most was the love little Johnny has for his dad. He is completely oblivious to the fact that his dad resents him for being a jet; he just wants to participate in the race with him. During the race, John’s propellers fly away. Little Johnny saves his dad from crashing and helps him win the race, using his jet skills. Aside from the militaristic implications, the cartoon is really a lesson in compassion, and it certainly affected me that way watching it as an adult. During the race, John and his son interact with various historical landmarks. They shift the leaning tower of Pisa in the opposite direction, they give the Great Sphynx of Giza a buzz cut, they fly through the Eiffel Tower’s legs, they fly by the Statue of Liberty, whose gown lifts up to expose her pink panties. They also tie a rainbow in a bow, remove the smog from Los Angeles, and turn a steamliner into a tugboat. After winning the race—and the government contract—they are commissioned to make 10,000 more jets, just like little Johnny. John is a bit exasperated, but Mary just smiles, and shows an endless string of knitted planes.