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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: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: October 14, 1944
‘Plane Daffy’ opens with a military squad of pigeons hopelessly awaiting the return of Homer Pigeon, a dopey character, resembling Bob Clampett’s Bashful Buzzard from ‘Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid’ (1942).
This character has fallen into the clutches of Hatta Mari (an obvious reference to Mata Hari, a Dutch exotic dancer and spy during World War I). Hatta Mari appears to be a seductive pin up pigeon and a spy for the axis powers. After he realizes he has revealed his secret, Homer shoots himself (!).
The squad now seeks another for the job, to which Daffy, ‘the woman hater’, happily volunteers. Finally, after a wild chase, he too has to reveal his secret to the Fuehrer. But it turns out to be “Hitler is a stinker”, to which Adolf exclaims “that’s no secret!”, and Goehring and Goebbels add: “Ja! Everyone knows that!”.
‘Plane Daffy’ is one of the best war cartoons the Warner Bros. studio ever made. It may have been inspired by Walter Lantz’s ‘Pigeon Patrol’, but it’s much faster, wilder and zanier. It uses a voice over in rhyme, and citation-rich dialogue, and it’s full of extremely wild and zany animation.
Watch ‘Plane Daffy’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Bill Roberts
Release Date: August 27, 1943
The short ‘demonstrates’ where uncontrolled emotion can lead to: a man gets slapped in the face by a woman, while the woman eats too much. This makes ‘Reason and Emotion’ one of the first cartoons about weight and diets.
Then the short shows how reason is destroyed by Adolf Hitler (in an extraordinarily vicious, but wonderfully animated caricature), who uses fear, sympathy, pride and hate to indoctrinate the Nazi mind. This is one of the propaganda shorts, which treat the Germans as victims of their Nazi leaders (see also ‘Education for Death‘ from the same year). This contrary to the Japanese, who, in WWII animated propaganda films, were all treated as despicable, mean and low. The film also warns against panic and falling for false rumors.
Emotion is depicted as a rough, dumb, but fun-loving caveman, while Reason is a bespectacled thin and rather boring character. One cannot resist to love the Emotion-type, especially in its female form, as depicted in the woman’s head. This female character is animated with gusto by Ollie Johnston.
Watch ‘Reason and Emotion’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: May 22, 1943
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Mammy Two-Shoes
When Mammy throws Tom out of the house, Jerry rejoices. He even paints an Adolf Hitler-mustache and hairdo on Tom’s portrait, But then he gets lonesome, so he and Tom set up a great fake chase to get Tom back into the house.
Highlight of this cartoon are the loony faces Jerry makes to scare Mammy. Tom and Jerry actually talk in this cartoon.
Watch ‘The Lonesome Mouse’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: January 15, 1943
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Both propaganda shorts Disney released in January 1943, ‘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, animated by Milt Kahl, 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:
‘Kino-Circus’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’
Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: April 10, 1937
It makes very clear that in the 1930s the experience of going to the movies was way more elaborate 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 an early caricature of Adolf 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 (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: