Sunday, January 15, 2017

Donald Duck In Nazi Land

By Stokes Laird

Throughout the years of the United States’ involvement in World War II the entire country was involved in helping out with the war effort. Walt Disney and his company were no exception. During the years of the war, Walt Disney Productions released a number of films and short cartoons that were meant to encourage citizens to buy war bonds to help out the Allied cause in the war. These films varied in topic from attempts to sell theories on how long range strategic bombing could help win the war to more whimsical cartoon exaggerations meant to serve as propaganda. No other character short film released by Disney during the time of the war has had as lasting of an impact as one starring Donald Duck appropriately titled, “Der Fuehrer’s Face”...

Released in 1943, “Der Fuehrer’s Face” follows Donald Duck through a nightmare sequence in which he finds himself working in a Nazi artillery factory. Like all effective pieces of propaganda, this short cartoon makes use of exaggerations to help influence the viewer’s thinking, attitude, and behavior. In this case, the purpose of the cartoon is to paint a negative picture of the Axis powers in hopes that more United States citizens would get behind the war effort by purchasing war bonds to help fund the Allied Powers.

Walt Disney allowed images of his most popular characters to be printed on War Bonds as a way to help promote the Bonds for Babies campaign. One certificate was given to everyone who purchased a bond in the name of a baby or young child.

In the cartoon, Donald is forced by bayonet point to complete “48 hour daily work shifts” where he is required to screw caps onto artillery shells on an assembly line. Frequently a picture of the Fuehrer himself will accompany the artillery shell and Donald is required to salute it with a loud “Heil Hitler!” Throughout his day Donald is allowed food rations of wooden bread and scent of bacon and eggs, and he is forced into a ritual daily reading from “Mein Kampf.” The purpose of these exaggerations is to paint the Nazi war machine in a negative manner for the audience. The cartoon does a good job of demonizing the Axis leaders and leading viewers to appreciate the freedoms that come from being a part of the United States.

In true Disney style, the cartoon uses attention to detail to help paint the picture and tell the story. Examples of this are best seen as the camera scans through the German town in which Donald finds himself a resident. In this town every cloud, tree, and bush is drawn to resemble swastikas to further emphasize the ridiculous Nazi indoctrination on the residents. Even the features of Donald Duck’s house bear a strong resemblance to Adolf Hitler himself. The details can also be seen or rather heard in the accompanying soundtrack. The cartoon features a catchy tune that aims to once again poke fun at the Nazi ideology. The song frequently mentions the idea of a “master race” and features repeated “heils” throughout its course. Overall, the attention to detail in both the scenery and music help drive home the message of the cartoon and make it much more effective.

All in all, the cartoon was very successful in accomplishing its intended purpose. It does an excellent job of portraying the enemy (Axis Powers) in a ridiculous manner while also emphasizing the freedoms that are enjoyed by American citizens. “Der Fuehrer’s Face” went on to win an Academy Award for best animated short film at the 15th Academy Awards. It has also been placed on several lists as one of the greatest animated cartoons of all time as voted on by members of the animation field. Because of the cartoons controversial nature of depicting Donald Duck as a Nazi, it was not included in general circulation after the original release. However, it has since been included for home viewing on “The Chronological Donald Vol. 2” version of the Walt Disney Treasures collection seen below...

And now, let's revisit Donald in the 1943 Walt Disney animated short film “Der Fuehrer’s Face”...

(For your viewing pleasure, please be sure to pause the Disney Avenue Music Player at the top, left-hand corner of the page prior to playing the video below if you are on a desktop computer.) 


Stokes Laird comes to us from Charlotte, NC where he is currently teaching social studies at the high school level. He earned a BA in History from Point University and a Master of Education degree from the University of Montevallo in Alabama. His interest in Disney, like many others, sparks from the numerous trips taken with his family as a child and has turned into a passion that goes beyond the Parks themselves to the people, events, and motivations that made them possible. The Disney Parks will always hold a special place in Stokes’ life, he did propose to his wife at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, and he hopes to one day visit every Disney Park worldwide. Some of his favorite attractions include: The Haunted Mansion, Tower of Terror, The Great Movie Ride, and Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland.

You can find all of Stokes' articles here.

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