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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: Wilfred Jackson & Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: January 23, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The New Spirit © Walt DisneyWhen 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:

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