Mar 9, 2011

Disney during World War II

During World War II the pressure for the allied forces to fight off the axis powers was at its height. But just as vital as it was to fend off the enemy, the military was also under extreme pressure to gain support from the people to continue the war. We all know of the bogus “Duck and Cover” campaign the military used during the 50’s to make people feel protected under the circumstances of any eventuality (despite that if a nuclear weapon is dropped, anything within a quarter of a mile of ground zero of the explosion would be completely vaporized, making “ducking and covering” a useless gesture). But the military wasn’t spreading propaganda alone, many cartoonists, writers, and animators were hired by the military to create anti-Nazi propaganda to influence the people to continue this fight against the enemy.

Walt Disney’s contribution began after the release of Fantasia, and the studio began to face bankruptcy. The military offered a contract to Disney for 32 short propaganda films for $4,500 each, considering Disney’s financial status, he took the job, and began producing films one after another. One example would be “Der Fuehrer’s Face”, which was released on January 1st 1943, featuring Donald Duck. The film took place in a stylized version of Nazi Germany, where everything looked like a swastika, and where everything you would do and think would be determined entirely by the fuehrer, and the needs of the military. Throughout the cartoon Donald Duck is forced to salute Hitler, march with an oom-pah band composed of Mussolini, Hirohito, Goring, and Goebbels while saluting Hitler, and work in a factory, screwing noses onto warheads – all the while saluting Hitler. In the end, Donald loses his sanity and wakes up, relieved to find himself home in America, and that his whole ordeal was only a nightmare.

After it’s release, the cartoon won the 1943 Academy Award for Animated Short Film, and was to become the first Donald Duck Cartoon to win an Oscar. Of course this film was not entirely directed by Walt Disney, American animator Jack Kinney took part in the directing as well. But the next film to be released 14 days later was entirely directed by Disney. This next film was called “Education for Death, Making of the Nazi”, and was based on a book written by Gregor Zeimer with the same name. The cartoon showed the life of a little German boy named Hans, and his slow development into a Nazi soldier. References to things described in the book are used throughout the film, for example when Hans is at school, being taught how only the strong survive and how there is no room in this world for the weak. This scene is based on a chapter in the book. The German youth are taken on a camping trip chaperoned by a Nazi storm trooper, who educates the children that it is there duty to preserve the “purity of the human race” and that all those who oppose them will be destroyed. Though this, and other films are rarely shown today, they can still be found on certain Walt Disney DVDs, for example “Walt Disney Treasures: on the front lines”.   


image is a clip from "Der Fuehrer's Face", and was downloaded from Wikipedia

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