Many of Tex Avery's cartoons at Warner Bros were parodies of the short subjects that (in those days) were screened during a trip to the movies before the main feature. 'The Isle of Pingo Pongo' is a parody of travelogue movies: specifically, the 'Going Places' shorts that Lowell Thomas narrated for Universal. Since modern viewers of this toon are unlikely to be familiar with the original material being parodied, a large amount of the humour is lost.
There are also references in this 1938 cartoon to other cultural fixtures of that time, such as the then-popular 'Life Goes to a Party' feature in Henry Luce's weekly magazine, and the wildlife documentaries of Martin and Osa Johnson. Perceptive modern viewers will sense that something is being guyed here, but will be frustrated because they probably don't know the source material.
Some of the material here is worse than it needed to be. There's a rather strained gag, depicting a ship taking a circuitous route across a map of the world from the United States to Africa. But the gag is not made funnier by the map's gross inaccuracy. Would it have hurt Leon Schlesinger's production schedule to include an accurate map of the world in that shot?
This cartoon has provoked some controversy for racist content. Sure enough, we get the usual dumb jokes about African natives with pneumatic lips and bones in their topknots. I found the jokes mostly so weak that they aren't malicious, but also so weak that they aren't funny. What did offend me here was the narrator's continuous referrals to these African caricatures as 'savages' and 'aborigines'.
Even some brilliant Warners toons are seriously weakened by bad running gags ending in limp finishes: a classic example of this problem is 'The Dover Boys', featuring innovative animation, a clever and unusual premise, but an incredibly bad running gag leading into a weak fade-out. Here in 'The Isle of Pingo Pongo' we seem to have one more example of that same problem, with Egghead (Tex Avery's proto-Elmer Fudd character) periodically showing up with a violin case and asking the unseen narrator 'Now, boss?'. 'Not yet!' the narrator tells him each time. I had very low expectations for a funny pay-off gag, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Lowell Thomas's travelogues always ended in a deep cliché of his own creation: "And so, as the sun sinks slowly in the west, we bid a fond farewell to...". My former mother-in-law recalled for me that, as a moviegoer in the 1930s, she would hear members of the audience reciting these overly-familiar words along with Thomas's narration. In the last few seconds of its screen time, 'The Isle of Pingo Pongo' goes a considerable distance towards redeeming itself with a juicy parody of Thomas's sign-off, giving Egghead a closing gag that turns out to be surprisingly very funny indeed.
Unfortunately, modern viewers who aren't familiar with the clichés being parodied here won't get the full effect of the good jokes, but WILL get the full effect of the racial stereotyping. Under the circumstances, my rating for this bad 'un is just 3 out of 10.