On the commentary track, Groening said that “[t]he coin-op suicide booth was inspired by a Donald Duck cartoon in which Donald Duck went to a museum of the future and he did all these coin-op devices that injured him.”
The cartoon in question, “Modern Inventions,” was the directorial debut of Jack King, one of the medium’s greatest luminaries of the 1930s. King began his career as an animator for Disney and then moved to Warner Bros. to work on the studio’s early Buddy cartoons. Buddy, one of the lesser-known Looney Tunes characters, was a young human boy who had pleasant misadventures. He was the studio’s second “big star” after Bosko. In 1937, King returned to direct numerous Donald Duck cartoons. He stayed with the company until 1949. His final job was directing the “Wind in the Willows” portion of “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.”
“Modern Inventions,” as Groening describes it, follows Donald into a futuristic museum stocked with elaborate and bizarre automated contraptions, as well as nightmarish helper robots. Donald runs afoul (afowl?) of an automatic bundle wrapper that mummifies him in cellophane and a robotic nursemaid that force-feeds him. Most akin to “Futurama” was a coin-operated robotic barber’s chair. Because of some bodily contortions, the chair styles Donald’s butt while rubbing shoe polish on his face. The cartoon ends with Donald throwing a wrathful fit.
In the “Futurama” suicide booths, a user enters and plunks a coin in a slot. The door closes and weapons unfold from the wall. One can choose between a “quick and painless” death or a “slow and horrible” one that uses chainsaws, electroshock, and, uh, melon ballers. The booth’s automated voice is just as polite as the one Donald heard from the automated barber’s chair in “Modern Inventions.”