During the Second World War film-makers on both sides of the Atlantic were put to work on morale-boosting and influential propaganda films – Walt Disney included. The master of animation was determined to put his characters to use in the war effort, especially Donald Duck.
Here are a selection of 6 Disney cartoons that were produced during the war, each with its own message and each designed to bolster public opinion behind allied war efforts.
Education For Death: The Making of a Nazi (1943)
Considerably different to the average Disney short, Education for Death is based on a book by Gregor Ziemer and features none of Disney’s usual characters. Instead the production focuses on the issue of youth and how the Nazi machine corrupted minds from a very early age.
At just over 10 minutes long this film was shown to US audiences in movie theaters in 1943 and probably had quite an impact. This isn’t the usual jovial Disney outing – far from it. The imagery contained in this short film is as serious as it gets and it’s easy to see why Walt believed his usual love-able characters would confuse the message.
Der Fuehrer’s Face (1942)
Starring Disney favorite Donald Duck, Der Fuehrer’s Face is a simple anti-Nazi propaganda film that went on to win the Academy Award for best animated short. The message behind this one is straightforward: Hitler and the Nazis are your enemy, support our troops and back the war effort!
There are lashings of comedy thrown in, after all this is a Donald Duck film! The obsessive extremes painted of Nazi Germany are almost comical – everything from clouds to trees are swastika shaped.
The Spirit of ‘43 (1943)
At a time when the payment of tax was more important than it ever had been before the film was viewed by around 26 million US citizens. According to a poll, 37% of those who saw the film admitted that it had indeed affected their willingness to pay higher tax rates in order to fund the ongoing conflict.
Donald Gets Drafted (1942)
This short treads a fine line between brazen propaganda and typical Disney antics as Donald Duck receives his draft notice and prepares for the army. The film opens with Donald walking past seemingly endless recruitment advertisements, many of which look way too good to be true.
Walt managed to squeeze in a few more clever jokes about conscription and the army’s willingness to take new troops, though this film seems to have a less defined message than many of the other Disney wartime shorts.
Fall Out Fall In (1943)
In this cartoon we see Donald Duck marching for miles through storms, ice and baking hot desert sands before struggling with his tent and regiment’s particularly loud sleeping habits.
Donald was a busy duck during the war, and many of the cartoons produced simply follow his military career and inevitable mistakes that lead to hilarious consequences. Whilst this one is naturally not much different, it does at least tackle a few of the hardships faced by soldiers in the war.
Commando Duck (1944)
With a not-so-subtle reminder of who America was fighting and lines like “Japanese custom always say shooting a man in the back please” (yes, I know) this is one Disney cartoon that reflects the desperation of the war effort by 1944.
Rather than ending up peeling potatoes or troubled by fatigue this is one cartoon in which Donald seemingly succeeds – though not without the usual hysterical cartoon antics that made Disney so popular in the first place. Politically incorrect but historically important!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this short collection of historical cartoons. This has to be propaganda at its fluffiest, and whilst propaganda is generally never a good thing these are probably some of the finest examples ever made.
More of these Disney wartime efforts exist, if you’ve got any other favorites then don’t hesitate in sharing them in the comments below. If you’ve missed the last few Stuff to Watch articles then be sure to check out these geeky documentaries, some clever lip reading and these awesome machinimas.
What do you think of these cartoons? Do you miss this style of animation? Any favorites? Comment away, below!