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Director: Bill Justice & Bill Roberts
Release Date: November 5, 1943
Stars: The Seven Dwarfs
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Winged Scourge © Walt DisneyThis 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: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Spirit of '43 © Walt Disney‘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
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Grain That Built a Hemisphere © Walt Disney‘The Grain that Built a Hemisphere’ is a war time educational short about corn in quite a propagandistic fashion.

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: Jack Kinney
Release Date: July 30, 1943
Stars: Goofy, Pluto (cameo)
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Victory Vehicles © Walt Disney‘Victory Vehicles’ is the only entirely war-themed Goofy short (although the end of ‘How to be a Sailor’ (1944) refers to the war, too). It’s no army cartoon, however. Instead, the cartoon parodies propagandistic shorts of the time, using a patriotic voice over and dealing with the (real) problem of rubber shortage.

‘Victory Vehicles’ introduces various silly inventions that should replace the car as a form of transportation. The solution finally settles on the pogo-stick: “the answer to a nation’s needs”.

‘Victory Vehicles’ is a very enjoyable cartoon in its silly satire. It’s also a nice window to the shortage problems of World War II America. The film contains a very catchy theme song called ‘Hop on your Pogo Stick’, and a short cameo by Pluto.

‘Victory Vehicles’ is an important landmark in the Goofy series, because it marks Goofy’s graduation from single character to the prototypical everyman. In this short various types of Goofies can be seen, including women and children. They are provided with different voice overs, emphasizing that every Goofy we see is a different one.

Of all evolutions of a cartoon star, this is the most remarkable one. The thirties Goof, with his all too recognizable character traits has been transformed into an everyman who could be anybody, and, at the same time, still be Goofy.

Other directors would return to the original Goofy in cartoons like ‘Foul Hunting‘ (Jack Hannah, 1947) and ‘The Big Wash‘ (Clyde Geronimi, 1948), but Jack Kinney would stick to the everyman Goofy, making the most hilarious cartoons with this character.

This is Goofy cartoon No. 10
To the previous Goofy cartoon: How to Fish
To the next Goofy cartoon: How to be a Sailor

Director: Dick Lundy
Release Date: January 29, 1943
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Donald's Tire Trouble © Walt DisneyIn the vibrant opening scene of ‘Donald’s Tire Trouble’ we watch Donald zooming with his car through the mountains with an incredible speed. Then he suddenly gets a flat tire.

In trying to fix it, practically everything goes wrong that can go wrong: Donald has trouble with the jack, the tire patch, the tire itself, and the wheel. Miraculously, he finally manages to fix the one, but then all his tires go flat…

‘Donald’s Tire Trouble’ is without doubt one of the best Donald Duck shorts dealing with Donald’s struggle with inanimate objects, and arguably Dick Lundy’s best Donald Duck cartoon. Instead of milking one gag, like he did in ‘The Village Smithy‘ and ‘Donald’s Garden‘ from 1942,  he continuously proceeds from one gag to another, which leads to an impressive string of gags unseen in his earlier cartoons. Moreover, most car drivers will relate to Donald’s frustrations, which will be way more familiar than his problems in the earlier cartoons. The result is an exuberant short, more fit to the World War II era.

Watch ‘Donald’s Tire Trouble’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 39
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Der Fuehrer’s Face
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Flying Jalopy

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: February 19, 1943
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Pluto and the Armadillo © Walt Disney‘Pluto and the Armadillo’ is one of the South American films Disney released in the forties after a visit to South America in 1941 (other examples are ‘The Pelican and the Snipe‘ and ‘Contrary Condor’ from 1944).

‘Pluto and the Armadillo’ is actually an outtake from Disney’s first South American ensemble feature ‘Saludos Amigos‘ (1942). This explains its use of a narrator introducing the armadillo and its Brazilian setting.

As the title suggests, this Mickey Mouse cartoon is actually devoted to Pluto. While playing with Mickey during a stop at an airport near a jungle, he mistakes the armadillo for his own ball. As in many other Pluto cartoons (e.g. ‘Pluto’s Playmate‘ from 1941 and ‘Canine Patrol‘ from 1945), Pluto is first suspicious of this new little animal, but then grows in love with it. This standard scenario would have led to a routine Pluto entry, if it were not for the armadillo itself.

The South American mammal is not drawn very lifelike, but looks like a very cute, feminine armed little dog. Her moves are accompanied by metallic and rattling sounds, as if her armor consists of loose mechanical parts, and she walks to an irresistible samba tune, which provides the theme music for the complete cartoon.

Because of her charming presence ‘Pluto and the armadillo’ is very cute and joyful, and a delight to watch, even though it’s not very funny.

Watch ‘Pluto and the Armadillo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 117
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Symphony Hour
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Squatter’s Rights

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: April 2, 1943
Stars: Pluto, Chip ‘n Dale
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Private Pluto © Walt Disney

Pluto has joined the army, and wearing a helmet, he has to protect “the pillbox” (a canon) against saboteurs.

These appear to be two little chipmunks who use the canon to crack acorns. Pluto tries to fight them, but the two critters defeat him in an unexpected ending.

‘Private Pluto’ is the second of two World War II-themed Pluto cartoons (the first being ‘The Army Mascot‘ from 1942). It was also to be the last Pluto cartoon directed by Clyde Geronimi, who promoted to sequence director in Disney’s feature films. Geronimi was succeeded by Charles Nichols, who seemed to be more comfortable with the character and who would direct every Pluto cartoon save one from then on.

‘Private Pluto’ is an important cartoon, because it introduces those famous chipmunks, Chip ‘n Dale. They’re not named yet, nor are they two different characters here, but their mischievous behavior and their hardly comprehensible jabbering are already present, and they’re certainly instantly likeable.

Chip ‘n Dale would eventually become Donald’s adversaries, but Pluto, too, would re-encounter them in three cartoons: ‘Squatters Rights‘ (1946), ‘Food for Feudin’‘ (1950) and ‘Pluto’s Christmas Tree‘ (1952).

‘Private Pluto’ is interesting in its own right, for it shows the line of coastal defense the United States had placed at the Pacific Coast in the years preceding the war. After the attack on Pearl Harbor it had been placed on high alert (thus Pluto’s job), but luckily there was no need ever to use it.

Watch ‘Private Pluto’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Pluto cartoon No. 10
To the previous Pluto cartoon: Pluto at the Zoo
To the next Pluto cartoon: Springtime for Pluto

Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date:
January 1, 1943
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Der Fuehrer's Face © Walt DisneyIn ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face’ Donald is apparently a citizen of ‘Nutziland’, a fascist country where even trees and clouds are swastika-shaped.

Donald is awoken by a silly march band singing the sarcastic title song (penned by Disney composer Oliver Wallace and sung with gusto by Spike Jones). Then he has breakfast that consists of only one coffee bean, ‘aroma de bacon & eggs’ and a slice of wooden bread. All too soon 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. Instead, the Nazis used forced labor forces from their occupied territories.

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:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 38
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Bellboy Donald
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Tire Trouble

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