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Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: 1942
‘Stop That Tank!’ was the first commission that resulted from the showing of the pilot instruction film ‘Four Methods of Flush Riveting‘. In that respect it was Disney’s very first commissioned animated instruction film.
The film was made for the Canadian army to show the working of the Boys MK-1 anti-tank rifle. Unlike ‘Four Methods of Flush Riveting’ it features full animation and humor, as well as live action sequences, to educate the soldiers. Most of the film consists of (very boring) instructions, but the film starts very nicely with the full animation sequence of a squad of rattling tanks led by a caricature of Adolf Hitler, jabbering in mock-German, being shot to hell by Tommies and their anti-tank-rifles. In hell we watch Hitler raging in distress. The devil explains to us that Hitler says that “against your anti-tank rifles he simply can’t win”.
During the instruction film which follows we still have four incidents of full animation: three involving a goofy soldier, who 1) tries to carry an anti-tank rifle on his own, 2) opens the magazine the wrong way and 3) goes to bed with his gun, the film’s last shot. The fourth incident is that of a cow being shot instead of a tank.
No doubt these four comic reliefs were very welcome during the otherwise extremely dry and boring instruction film. However, for contemporary audiences only the opening sequence remains of interest. Its strong and rather vicious propaganda was going to be echoed in a lot of cartoons during the war era.
Interestingly, this film was directed by Ub Iwerks, Disney’s old friend, who, after the end of his own animation studio adventure, had recently rejoined the Disney studio. Iwerks went to work at the technical department, and ‘Stop That Tank’ is the only film he directed during his second stay at Disney’s I know of.
Watch ‘Stop That Tank!’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: James Algar
Release Date: 1942
It was made in early 1941, thus before The United States had entered the war, for the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, which was located nearby the Disney studio at Burbank. The film was “produced under the technical direction of the Lockheed Aircraft Cop.”, and without doubt very useful, but it was in fact a pilot film. As the title card states:
“The following film uses a simplified technique developed by the Walt Disney studio to demonstrate the quickest and cheapest method whereby the animation medium can be applied to National Defense Training”.
Both 1940 features ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Fantasia’ had lost money, and Disney was looking for new opportunities to earn some. In World War I J.R. Bray had demonstrated that animation film could be used perfectly for training the troops, thus pioneering the educational animation film. Nevertheless, between World War I and World War II only few educational films were made.
Disney’s new technique is in fact limited animation. As such it is the mother of all animated instruction films up to the present day, but even more of limited animation as an art, which would be explored more and more during the 1950s and 1960s.
The immediate effect on the Disney studio was that it sprouted commissions for several instruction films, mostly for the army and the navy, starting with ‘Stop That Tank!‘ for the National Film Board of Canada.
During World War II the Disney studio produced no less than 200 different training films for the armed forces. Moreover, limited animation immediately entered propaganda shorts, like ‘The Thrifty Pig‘ (1941) and such, as well as features, like ‘The Three Caballeros‘ (1944).
The film itself is very dry, and as educational as it is dull. Its most interesting feature is the use of a structured blue monochrome background against which the clean, airbrushed objects read very well. The idea of using monochromes and structures in backgrounds was going to be of as much importance as limited animation to the more forward looking forces in the animation field, and the UPA studio, which sprouted from the 1941 Disney strike, in particular.
Watch ‘Four Methods of Flush Riveting’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Jack King
Release Date: December 1943
‘Defense Against Invasion’ is an educational short for the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, the governmental institution, which tried to secure Latin America from the influence of the Axis powers.
The office commissioned quite a few films from Disney, apart from ‘Defense Against Invasion’ e.g. ‘The Grain that built a Hemisphere’ and’The Winged Scourge‘ (both 1943).
Despite its title, ‘Defense Against Invasion’ is not about war, but about vaccination. It uses a voice over to narrate the silent live action sequences of three boys entering a doctor’s office to get vaccinated. This live action part is a little boring, but the principle of vaccination is told with animated sequences in which the human body is depicted as a large city. Here we watch blood cells, ‘little workers’, fight disease (depicted as black creepy crawlers) with modern warfare. Oddly enough, it is the red blood cells, not the white blood cells (who are strangely absent), who are fighting disease.
Despite its peaceful message, the short contains many war metaphors in its fighting sequences, which all have a very science fiction-like look. This makes the short a typical World War II cartoon, after all. The animated sequences are very beautiful. Especially the backgrounds are at times no less than gorgeous.
With its depiction of the body as inhabited by little creatures ‘Defense Against Invasion’ predates Albert Barillé’s successful television series ‘Il était une fois… la vie’ (Once upon a Time… Life, 1987) by over forty years.
Watch ‘Defense Against Invasion’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Bill Justice & Bill Roberts
Release Date: November 5, 1943
Stars: The Seven Dwarfs
This war time educational short tells us about public enemy no. 1. This turns out not to be Nazi Germany or Japan, but the Anopheles mosquito, which spreads malaria. The film is quite insightful in how malaria is spread and how one can prepare oneself against it.
The film features the seven dwarfs from ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937) as volunteers to give an example. Their precautionary actions are staged to an instrumental version of the song ‘Whistle While You Work’, which was originally associated with Snow White and some forest animals doing the household in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937).
It’s a bit surreal to watch these happy-go-lucky fairy tale characters fighting a serious disease in a modern (South) American environment. Especially because some of the precautionary methods against malaria are quite disturbing. They include spraying oil on ponds and the use of the poisonous gas Paris Green, methods with devastating results for the environment. Clearly, environmentalism was not yet on the agenda in the 1940s (in fact, it only hit the political agenda after the publishing of Rachel Carson’s book ‘Silent Spring’ in 1962).
The seven dwarfs were used earlier in the war propaganda short ‘7 Wise Dwarfs‘ (1941), but that consisted mainly of reused material. ‘The Winged Scourge’ has entirely new animation on the seven dwarfs. It was the last film to feature these happy little men.
‘The Winged Scourge’ was made for the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. It’s the first of a few educational health shorts made especially for the Latin American countries, other examples being ‘Defense Against Invasion‘ (1943), ‘Cleanliness Brings Health’ (1945), ‘What Is Disease’ (1945), and ‘Planning for Good Eating’ (1946).
Watch ‘The Winged Scourge’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Jack King
Release Date: January 7, 1943
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
‘The Spirit of ’43’ is the follow-up to ‘The New Spirit’ from the previous year. The second half is exactly the same, but the first half is even better than the first half of its predecessor, making a clever use of strong symbolic imaginary.
Donald just got paid and he’s divided between his two selves: the thrifty (a Scottish forerunner of Uncle Scrooge) and the spendthrift. These two characters struggle for Donald, in which they both fall down: the spendthrift into a tavern with a swastika-shaped swing-door and the thrifty into a wall, which, together with the stars his fall produces, resembles the American flag. This makes the decision for Donald easier, will he “spend for the axis or save for taxes”? He knocks his spendthrift side into the tavern, crushing the swastika door changing it into a V for victory. At this point the second half starts (see ‘The New Spirit‘ for a description of this part).
‘The Spirit of ’43’ is propaganda, and quite obviously so. But the film is both inventive and effective in its delivery of its message, and therefore surprisingly enjoyable.
Watch ‘The Spirit of ’43’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Bill Justice & Bill Roberts
Release Date: January 4, 1943
The Disney studios made it “under the auspices of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs”, which means that it belongs to the ca. ten films Disney made in the context of America’s ‘good-neighbor policy’ .
‘The Grain that Built a Hemisphere’ is the most propagandistic of the lot. Its tone is set right away when the narrator pompously boosts that “corn is the symbol of a spirit that links the Americas in a common bond of union and solidarity”.
Luckily, the main part of the film is quite insightful, explaining about the origin of corn, and what products it can produce. We learn how inbreeding is used to produce bigger plants and how it can be used as food for livestock (this section reuses footage from ‘Farmyard Symphony‘ from 1938) and as a source for oils, starch, glucose and sugar. And maybe, in the near future, for plastics for all kinds of war machines? Thus ends this educational film as a typical war propaganda short, after all…
Watch ‘The Grain that Built a Hemisphere’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Wilfred Jackson & Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: January 23, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck
When the United States were forced into the war themselves, the government asked Disney to make a short to make the American citizens fill in their income tax forms in time. Disney gave them his biggest star of that time, Donald Duck, to play the everyman. The government was not impressed until the taxes came rolling in after the film was screened in cinemas.
In contrast to Disney’s earlier propaganda films for the Canadian government, this film uses entirely new animation, directed by Wilfred Jackson, and produced in the ridiculously short time period of a single month.
The short opens with Donald dancing to the energetic title song, which is sung by Cliff Edwards, the voice of Jiminy Cricket in ‘Pinocchio’ (1940). The song is played on a slightly anthropomorphised radio. The radio then asks Donald if he wants to do his part for the country and Donald is growing more and more enthusiastic, until the radio reveals he has to pay his income tax. The radio has to persuade Donald once again, who grows enthusiastic again to the strong slogan ‘Taxes to beat the axis’ (with the axis referring to the Axis powers: Germany, Italy and Japan).
The film further explains the public how to fill in a new, simplified form, using an anthropomorphized pen, bottle of ink and blotter. Like the shorts Disney made earlier for the Canadian government (e.g. ‘The Thrifty Pig‘ and ‘7 Wise Dwarfs‘), the second half (directed by Ben Sharpsteen) consists of very limited and highly propagandistic animation with grim images of factories, guns, planes, war ships and tanks, while an intense narrator repeats the intoxicating mantra of ‘taxes to beat the axis’.
When he comes to the propagandist climax, the sentence “to beat to earth the evil destroyer of freedom and piece”, we watch a horrifying towering monster-like machine depicting the Nazi aggressor. This mechanical monster is defeated and makes place for a patriotic end shot with clouds resembling the American flag, tanks and guns rolling and planes flying accompanied by a heroic hymn, while the narrator tells us that “this is our fight”.
It’s important to note that the film goes at lengths to dehumanize the enemy. The average tax payer was not to help to kill people, but to destroy “the enemy”, in this case a vague mechanical monster. Succeeding propaganda films often eschewed the idea that making war is killing people, with the propaganda feature ‘Victory through Air Power’ (1943) being the prime example.
In case of “The New Spirit”, propaganda rarely was so obvious, but it works: after watching the picture I had its slogan in my head for days. Indeed, the film was so successful, that it got a follow-up the next year: ‘The Spirit of ’43‘.
Watch ‘The New Spirit’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Fred Beebe
Release Date: January 13, 1942
Stars: Clarabella Cow, Donald Duck, Figaro, Geppetto, Goofy, Horace Horsecollar, Huey, Dewey and Louie, Mickey Mouse, Pinocchio, Pluto, The Seven Dwarfs
In the first half we only see some Disney stars parading on patriotic march music in front of the Canadian parliament building in Ottawa. This short scene reuses animation from ‘Pinocchio’ (Pinocchio, Geppetto and Figaro), ‘Good Scouts’ (Donald and his nephews), ‘Bone Trouble’ (Pluto), ‘The Band Concert‘ (Mickey and the gang), ‘Mickey’s Amateurs‘ (Goofy) and ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (the seven dwarfs, who are clearly singing and whistling, although their voices are not heard). ‘All Together’ is the only propaganda short to feature Pinocchio stars.
The second half uses powerful imaginary to persuade the public to buy war certificates. Of the new images, the most striking is the one of coins marching with bayonets.
‘All Together’ is image only. It doesn’t feature any kind of story, making it the least interesting of the four Canadian propaganda films.
Watch ‘All Together’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Ford Beebe
Release Date: January 11, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck
This film has the same two-part formula as ‘The Thrifty Pig‘ and ‘7 Wise Dwarfs‘ from 1941. The first half combines reused footage from two Donald Duck shorts from 1938: ‘Self control’ and ‘Donald’s better self’, but with altered voices. The second half resembles that of ‘The Thrifty Pig‘ and ‘7 Wise Dwarfs‘.
The result is less convincing than in the earlier two cartoons, probably because the source material is weaker. Neither ‘Self Control’ nor ‘Donald’s Better Self’ belong to Donald Duck’s best. Besides, Donald only reluctantly does his part, in great contrast to the optimistic pigs and dwarfs from the earlier shorts. Indeed, when Disney had to convince the American public for government purposes, the studio came up with completely new animation for its biggest star (in ‘The New Spirit‘ and ‘The Spirit of ’43‘).
Watch ‘Donald’s Decision’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Directors: Dick Lyford & Ford Beebe
Release Date: December 12, 1941
Stars: The Seven Dwarfs
‘7 Wise Dwarfs’ is Walt Disney’s second propaganda film for the Canadian government, and it uses the same two-part formula as the first (‘The Thrifty Pig‘), this time reusing animation from Walt Disney’s most famous film of all: ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937).
The first part of ‘7 Wise Dwarfs’ reuses animation of the seven dwarfs singing the mining song and ‘Hi-ho’, but with altered lyrics and backgrounds. There is some new animation of the Dwarfs entering and leaving the bank to buy war bonds. The second part is almost the same as that of ‘The Thrifty Pig’, ending with the same powerful image of planes gunning ‘Invest in Victory’. The Seven Dwarfs would return in ‘The Winged Scourge‘ (1943), which features a lot of new animation on them.
Watch ‘7 Wise Dwarfs’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Ford Beebe
Release Date: 1941
Stars: The Three Little Pigs
Canada, had declared war on Nazi Germany on September 10, 1939, a week after the United Kingdom, following Germany’s invasion of Poland, September 1.
‘The Thrifty Pig’ is the first of Disney’s four propaganda films commissioned by the Canadian government to persuade their citizens to buy war bonds to invest in the war effort. The other three being ‘7 Wise Dwarfs‘ (1941), ‘Donald’s Decision‘ (1942) and ‘All Together‘ (1942). It’s also Disney’s first propaganda cartoon.
‘The Thrifty pig’ consists of two parts, The first part cleverly reuses animation from Walt Disney’s most famous short, ‘Three little pigs’ (1933), but in this shortened version the wolf wears a Nazi costume, the bricks are made of war bonds and the union jack is waving at the wise pig’s house. The only new animation is when the wolf’s blows reveal war bonds beneath the plaster and when the wise pig says “these bricks not only stop his blowing, they will also get him going”.
The second part is more overtly propagandistic and uses limited animation of war machines and slogans to persuade the public to buy “more and more war certificates”. The end shot, where a plane shoots the words ‘Invest in Victory’ on the screen’ is the most powerful image of the complete film.
This two part formula would be reused in all succeeding propaganda films that had to persuade the public to invest in the governmental war industry. Apart from the Canadian commissions, we see this structure in ‘The New Spirit‘ (1942) and ‘The Spirit of ’43‘ (1943), which had to persuade American citizens to pay their income taxes in time.
Watch ‘The Thrifty Pig’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: July 21, 1942
Stars: The Three Little Pigs (in a cameo)
A bombastic narrator makes all kinds of outrageous comparisons to illustrate the farmer’s huge production. Examples are baking all fruits of America into one big pie or frying all America’s meat on four Vesuvius volcanoes. The result is so absurd and its message so out to lunch that the short is actually great fun to watch.
Throughout the cartoon the animation is very limited, almost absent. The limited animation gives the short a poster-like quality. Full animation is limited to four short sequences:
1) a bowling ball bowling down skittles which resemble Hitler, Mussolini and a Japanese general
2) a giant pie thrown at the earth
3) Chickens laying eggs
4) The three little pigs leading an army of pigs.
‘Food Will Win the War’ was the last animated short directed by Ben Sharpsteen. In the 1940s he had moved more and more towards production. He would supervise the production of a.o. ‘Fun and Fancy Free‘ (1947), ‘Cinderella‘ (1950) and ‘Alice in Wonderland‘ (1951) before moving to live action, working on Disney’s True-Life Adventures (1948-1960). He retired in 1962.
Watch ‘Food Will Win the War’ yourself and tell me what you think: