Between 1942 and 1945, during World War II, Walt Disney was involved in the production of propaganda films for the US government. The widespread familiarity of Walt Disney's productions benefited the US government in producing pro-American war propaganda in an effort to increase support for the war.
During World War II, Walt Disney Productions made films for every branch of the US 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 1942, Disney was approached with requests from the US services. The Navy was the first, and other branches of the government, including, the Army, the Army Air Force, 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 US 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 first requested 900,000 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 28,000 feet of film in a year.
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 Force (USAAF or AAF) productions
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 Force 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.
As requested by the US Government, Walt Disney created a number of anti-German and anti-Japanese films for both the soldiers and the US public. He wanted 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.
While the actual titles of the individual cartoons may not be known, what is known is that Dr. Joseph Goebbels, in his diary entry of December 22, 1937, indicates he has given the Führer "...18 Mickey Mouse films [for Christmas]. He is very excited about this. He is completely happy about this treasure."
- Veteran's Day School Kit
- Transcript of interview with Disney about his propaganda ideas
- Disney at War
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