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Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: January 15, 1943
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Both propaganda shorts Disney released in January, ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face‘ and ‘Education for Death’ were the most powerful propaganda the studio ever released. However, the two couldn’t be more different: while ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face’ is an outrageously funny satire, ‘Education for Death’ is, some funny scenes notwithstanding, the most unsettling short the studio ever released. Its general tone is black, grim and its purpose is to shock, not to entertain.
Based on a book by Gregor Ziemer, ‘Education for Death’ tells us how Hans, a typical German boy, is indoctrinated by the rulers of the Third Reich. The short is conceived in a quasi-documentary style. The narrator makes us believe that the scenes we’re watching, are happening right before our eyes, and unlike any other cartoon of the period, the Germans speak real German, which is translated by the narrator.
Moreover, most of the human designs are quite realistic, with Hans’s mother being the acme in human naturalism by the studio thus far. On the other hand, all scenes are heavily dramatized, using colors like red and black, vast shadows, and extreme camera angles, which depict every Nazi as a towering and threatening figure.
In the beginning we are still allowed to laugh at a ridiculous version of Sleeping Beauty, in which Hitler, dressed like a ‘handsome knight’ rescues a fat, Valkyrie-like Germany from an evil witch (said to be democracy). But after the school scene, the short turns decidedly black, with images of book burning, a bible being replaced by ‘Mein Kampf’ and Jesus by a Nazi sword. In the final scene, Hans has grown into a grim soldier, who, wearing chains, blinders and a muzzle, marches to his own death. No matter how blatant this propaganda short is, this is one of the most disturbing endings of an animated film ever put on screen.
Watch ‘Education for Death’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Leonid Amalrik & Olga Khodataeva
Release Date: 1942
The short is called ‘a cartoon satire in three acts’ and features a Charlie Chaplin-like character, who introduces us to three staged satires, all featuring Adolf Hitler:
In the first, ‘Adolf the dog trainer and his pooches’, Hitler throws a bone at his three dogs, Benito Mussolini, Miklós Horthy and Ion Antonescu, the leaders of his allies Italy, Hungary and Romania, respectively.
In the second, ‘Hitler visits Napoleon’, Hitler asks Napoleon’s tomb for advice, but the deceased drags him into the tomb. It’s the most prophetic of the three, for indeed both Napoleon and Hitler were defeated in Russia.
In the third, ‘Adolf the juggler on powder kegs’, Hitler juggles with several burning torches on a pile of powder-barrels, representing the countries he has occupied. When he accidentally drops one of the torches, the barrels explode. The animation is particularly silly in this sequence and a delight to watch.
After the grim political posters from 1941, ‘Kino-Circus’ is more lighthearted. The film ridicules Hitler more than it makes him threatening. Quite surprising since in1942 Nazi Germany was still a serious threat to the Soviet Union: Leningrad suffered under a long siege, and the Soviet Union had only just begun its counter-attack.
Interestingly, both directors of ‘Kino-Circus’ later became famous for their sweet fairy tale films.
Watch ‘Kino-Circus’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: April 10, 1937
It makes very clear that the experience of going to the movies was way more elaborate in the thirties than nowadays: we watch newsreels, the audience singing to the title song and a feature, ‘The Petrified Florist’, a satire of the Warner Brothers film ‘The Petrified Forest’ (1936), with caricatures of its stars Leslie Howard and Bette Davis. During the cartoon we’re confronted with several movie theater annoyances, like people changing seats, people passing by in the middle of a film, popcorn sellers and bad front row seats.
In this cartoon, Friz Freleng really caught up with the new spirit at Warner Brothers induced by the coming of Tex Avery and Frank Tashlin in 1936. Gone is any resemblance to cuteness or children stars. Instead, there is an annoying duckling asking questions in an irritable voice, and causing havoc in the cinema. There’s no story, just gags, and the film ends rather unexpectedly. But the whole film is a sheer delight, aimed at laughs, and succeeding in it, too. Also featured is a very early caricature of Hitler.
Watch ‘She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: January 1, 1943
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Donald is awoken by a silly march band singing the sarcastic title song, he has breakfast that consists of only one coffee bean, ‘aroma de bacon & eggs’ and a slice of wooden bread, and he has to work at the assembly line, making shells and saluting to images of Adolf Hitler.
In the end, it appears that it was all just a dream, and Donald, in his Stars and Striped-colored room, sighs, embracing a golden copy of the statue of liberty: “Am I glad to be a citizen of the United States of America”. This closing scene is rather corny and the satire of the film misses some points: most of the (German) citizens of Nazi Germany were not poor and did not have to work like slaves, as is suggested here.
Nevertheless, ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face’ was both artistically and commercially the most successful of the Disney war time propaganda films. It even won an academy award for being the best animated short of 1943. It’s so successful, because, unlike most other propaganda shorts, it’s outrageously funny: its satire is so zany, its depiction of ‘Nutzi land’ so wacky, and the scene at the assembly line so out-to-lunch, that one cannot stop laughing. When Donald goes mad, these segments are even topped by a brightly colored, rather avantgardistic and very surrealistic stream-of-consciousness-like scene, which resembles similar dream sequences in ‘Dumbo’ (1941) and ‘The three Caballeros‘ (1944).
This short was not directed by any of the two regular Donald Duck directors of the time, Dick Lundy and Jack King, who both preferred a more unassuming type of humor, but by Jack Kinney, who is most famous for directing Goofy, and who was undoubtedly the wackiest of the Disney directors, of which this film certainly is proof.
Watch ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face’ yourself and tell me what you think: