Monday, October 16, 2023

Happy 100th to Disney, and remembering its heyday of war propaganda

As the Disney company celebrates its 100th birthday on the same day as I celebrate my own (my birthday, that is; not my 100th), I was thinking back a little on how many great films this company has made. 

While I'm no diehard fan, I have a major fondness for its earliest works like Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Bambi. After this flurry of impressive and massive hits, along with a few other features, between 1937 and 1942, it's curious that there was a break in Disney's filmography until 1946's controversial Song of the South.

That's because, during World War II, Disney shifted from major motion-picture entertainment to producing propaganda as its contribution to the war effort. "Der Fuehrer's Face" in 1943 had the look and feel of any other Looney Tunes-type cartoon short, featuring Donald Duck living under Nazi rule before realizing the endless Nazi feel-good tactics under very harsh rule in the name of national patriotism is actually a terrifying nightmare. He wakes up to thankfully find himself in his trusty American-flag pajamas.

It's pretty funny stuff and possibly the highlight of Disney's 1940s war activism.

Other really interesting Disney shorts from the time include "Education for Death: The Making of the Nazi," from 1943, which uses Disney cartoon magic to describe what was going on in world events and how German families and their very young children were put under Hitler's sway. "Reason and Emotion" is another one worth watching from 1943. Disney also spent these years creating instructional films for the military on basic combat training and other topics.

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