Friday, September 12, 2014

Walt Disney Goes To War

By Keith Mahne

Between 1942 and 1945, during World War II, everyone was behind the war effort. Walt Disney and the Studios was no exception. To help the Allied cause, Disney Studios produced a variety of wartime shorts... both education and entertainment in nature. Some taught you how to aim an anti-tank rifle... and others were a little more fun to watch. Continue after the page break as we learn how Walt Disney went to war...

During World War II, Disney made films for every branch of the U.S. military and government. The government looked to Walt Disney more than any other studio chief as a builder of public morale providing instruction and training the sailors and soldiers. This was accomplished through the use of animated graphics by means of expediting the intelligent mobilization of servicemen and civilians for the cause of the war. Over 90% of Disney employees were devoted to the production of training and propaganda films for the government. Throughout the duration of the war, Disney produced over 400,000 feet of educational war films, most at cost, which is equal to 68 hours of continuous film. In 1943 alone, 204,000 feet of film was produced.

In 1942, Disney was approached with requests from the U.S. services. The Navy was the first, and other branches of the government, including the Army, the Army Air Forces, the Department of Agriculture, and the Treasury Department rapidly caught on to Disney’s creative approach to generating educational films, propaganda and insignias.

As well as producing films for different government divisions from 1942 to 1943, Disney was asked to create animation for a series of pictures produced by Colonel Frank Capra for the U.S. Army. This series included films such as “Prelude to War" and “America goes to War”. Although these films were originally intended for servicemen, they were released to theaters because of their popularity.



The Navy productions:


The Navy first requested 90,000 feet of film to be ready in three months. The purpose of these films was to educate sailors on navigation tactics. This was a shock for Disney, as he was used to creating 27,000 feet of film in a year.

The Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs also requested educational films for aviation branches of the government. The subjects of these films varied widely from aerology and not compact tactics to ground crew aircraft maintenance.



The Treasury Department productions:

Disney created “The New Spirit” (1942) after a request from the Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr, to make Americans accept the payment of income taxes. The film was followed by “The Spirit of '43” (1943). In this film, Donald Duck deals with income taxes and shows their benefit to the American war effort. The film was seen by 26 million people. In a later Gallup poll 37% admitted that the film played a factor on their willingness to pay taxes. Disney also made a book for children to try to encourage them to purchase War Savings stamps.




The Army Air Forces (USAAF or AAF) :


Aerology film production was supervised by naval aviation experts and some members of Disney's team learned how to fly to better understand the problems the Army Air Forces encountered. "Victory Through Air Power" (1943) is one of the propaganda films Disney produced for air warfare. This film is an attempt to sell Major Alexander de Seversky's theories about the practical uses of long range strategic bombing. The animated film humorously tells about the development of air warfare and then switches to the Major illustrating how his ideas could win the war for the Allies.



Propaganda productions:


As requested by the US Government, Disney Studios created a number of anti-German and anti-Japanese films for both the soldiers and the US public made to portray these countries and their leaders as manipulative without morals. A few of the films he produced were "Der Fuehrer's Face” (1942), “Education for Death - The Making of a Nazi” (1943), and “Commando Duck" (1944).

In “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” Donald Duck breaks down after experiencing a nightmare where he has to make do with eating ridiculous Nazi food rations (smell of bacon and eggs, coffee made with one bean, and a slice of stale bread) and experiences a day at a Nazi artillery factory. “Education for Death - The Making of a Nazi” was a wartime propaganda film that takes on the perspective of Hans, a young German boy. As the movie progresses and Hans is exposed to Hitler youth and the Nazi culture, his ability to value human life decreases. In “Commando Duck”, Donald, by himself, destroys an entire Japanese airbase.


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