World War 2 Shorts (1941-45)
Softening the Blow of Being Drafted
With the Pearl Harbor attacks America was suddenly involved in a war it had resisted entering. So Disney set out to soften the blow, and promote the idea of military service. Included in this was a series of shorts featuring Donald Fauntleroy Duck (the name on his draft papers) being drafted into the army and going through boot camp; a fate many American men were themselves facing at the time.
In Donald Gets Drafted, Disney makes a little fun at how nice the army is made out to be by recruiting advertisements. There are posters advertising breakfast in bed, being buddies with the General and that perennial favourite, hot women. The opening music reinforces this idea that the Army is going to be easy with lyrics like,
the bugler blows, I can’t get ’em up
at quarter after seven
but if you’re tired, stay right there
sleep until eleven
the gals are really cuties
and entertaining these co-eds
is part of your regular duties
The Sergeant isn’t tough anymore
he’s careful not to bore you
just tell him when you’re peelin’ spuds
and he will peel them for you
Donald buys it and enthusiastically shows up. The medical examination is mocked as having low standards (probably due to needing the recruits). Then Donald has to face the fact that it is not as easy as advertised, and that it’s going to be hard work. Hilarity ensues (and continues in other shorts).
On the surface this looks like Disney is making fun of the army, but in a way it’s just making the process of recruitment easier to swallow. Not one of these movies shows Donald coming to the reality that he will have to shoot people, taking their lives in brutal and bloody scenes of battle. On the whole, his time in boot camp is pretty easy. No breakfast in bed, but still easy.
Garnering Economic Support
Disney was not only working to build support for the war effort in the United States, but also produced some cartoons for the Canadian Government with the aim to help support the British and Canadian war efforts by having people purchase War Savings Bonds. This also had the side effect of garnering economic support for Disney, too.
One of these shorts, entitled Seven Wise Dwarfs, features that model of industry, the Dwarf Workers Collective from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This cartoon is quite revealing. It turns out it is not as equal as we had initially thought. Doc divides the revenue up between himself and 5 other dwarfs. Dopey gets the discarded gems that dont make the cut – but this doesn’t seem quite so bad, seeing as he doesn’t seem to do that much work. The Dwarfs, being good Canadian citizens, take their gems to post offices and banks to buy bonds. We didn’t realize malaria is a problem in Canada.
In another Canadian short, Donald’s Decision, Donald Duck decides he will put off buying bonds until tomorrow. An angel appears to him and proceeds to tell him he should invest today so that more bombs and guns can be bought, so that more people can be killed – because that’s what angels are into. The Devil also appears and tempts him with the idea of spending the money on himself. Following the Devil, Donald learns at the last minute that spending money on yourself supports the Nazi’s. So he goes and buys some bonds at his nearest British post office.
Back in the U.S., in the film The New Spirit, Donald was brought in to help recruit people to give to the war effort in the most exciting way possible: By explaining how to do your income taxes!
Included in this film is a full explanation of how to fill in your income tax form. Disney at it’s most entertaining.
Disney describes paying your taxes as vital to create guns, ships and (of course) democracy. The thought that occurs to us is why not promote paying income taxes to deal with other crises. Millions of Americans are without health insurance. Poverty is increasing dramatically. Why is taxation only patriotic when it pays for death?
Upon the completion of Donald’s taxes the film goes on to describe what wonderful devices of death and destruction could be paid for with taxes, with the narrator seemingly getting more and more manic with excitement by the end.
The Pacific Theatre
While a number of Japanese stereotypes appear in Disney films, few are more potent than in the short Commando Duck. Commando Duck has Donald dropped somewhere in the pacific with the job of singlehandedly surrounding the enemy and taking them out.
On trying to work out when to shoot Donald, the Japanese commander says, “Japanese custom say, ‘always shooting a man in the back please'”.
How short-sighted can you be? The stereotypes depicted in this cartoon must have not only been offensive to the Japanese, but the countless Japanese Americans who presumably went to the cinemas, just like anyone else. Oh, right the U.S. Government locked them all away in concen…uh…internment camps.
But even then, surely it must have been clear that the war would not go on forever, and at some point you’d be at peace with these people – not to mention the U.S. citizens who came from this culture. Way to build good PR with the Japanese-American minority. But then, everyone was doing it. Loony Tunes cartoons were at least as bad as Disney in their depiction of Japanese culture.
The European Theatre
It’s kind of strange how fixated America was on the European Theater despite the fact that they only entered the war after the Japanese attacked. But Nazism was the big scourge they were rallying to defeat.
One of the most memorable World War 2 shorts was Der Fuhrer’s Face, which won an Academy Award. One of the most remarkable things about this film is that much of its criticism of Nazi Germany is related to economic and labour issues including scarcity of food, excessive work hours and lack of quality vacation time.
It should however be noted that these are all things very present for many Americans today – not because of slavery to the state, but slavery to an unrestrained market system.
It also tackles the immersion of Germans in Nazi propaganda in a hilariously-over-the-top way. But in the end, it’s all a dream, and Donald is “so glad to be a citizen of the United States of America.”
It’s probably the most entertaining of all the WWII shorts, and worth a look.
Disney was not trying to be funny when it released Education for Death, which depicts a bleak future for German children, indoctrinated into Nazism. The film is remarkably well made, and obviously the result of more care and attention than most Disney WWII shorts. Impressively, rather than having the characters speak English with a German accent, the makers of the film decided to have the German characters speak German. While there are not that many sympathetic characters in the film, those who are, are made to be clearly German. In a way this film is separating the German people from the threat of Nazism. It seems that Disney had a much higher respect for German culture than Japanese.
While Nazi imagery was conspicuously absent from Chicken Little (1943), there is little doubt they are attempting to teach Americans about the dangers of Nazism. Foxy Loxy, reading from a book entitled “Psychology” targets the dim-witted Chicken Little to undermine reason, as well as the chicken leaders structure and to cause a panic. The end result? Everyone dies. The fox wins.
So where’s the Nazi link? Foxy Loxy’s book, entitled “Psychology” is actually Mein Kampf. The producers thought that might be too obvious – but even as the title was changed, they kept the quotations. As a result you have a cautionary tale about the manipulation of societies, but also a metaphorical depiction of the story of Nazi Germany, and the fate of those who buy into the Nazi ideology.
Ironically, in Education for Death, the Nazi school children are taught using a similar story about a fox hunting and devouring a rabbit. What’s good for the Nazi’s is apparently good for us.
Disney’s World War 2 shorts are propaganda produced by The Man to ensure people’s support for the war. The result of the war for the military industrial complex would be a sustained power boost that would last for decades, as the aftermath of WWII quickly became the Cold War. Any concern for this was omitted from the films. After the war, taxation became an evil and Japan and Disney came to be friends.
One of the neatest elements of these war films was that this was a time where not every Disney film had a happy ending. Sometimes the bad-guys win in these films. It introduced an element of unpredictability and reality that a number of the more recent Disney films could have done with.