You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘WWII’ tag.
Director: Seymour Kneitel
Release Date: September 18, 1942
No other American cartoon stars featured in as many propaganda shorts fighting the foe. Superman stars in five, of which ‘Japoteurs’ is the first.
In this entry three Japanese spies try to steal the world’s largest bomber on its test flight. Of course, Lois flies along, and both she and the plane have to be rescued by Superman.
‘Japoteurs’ is an unfortunate cartoon, which adds to the idea of a fifth column of Japanese within The United States, making every Japanese person suspicious. Indeed, due to this type of paranoia, during the war no less than 110,000 Japanese Americans, including women and children, were put into internment camps.
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: Isadore Sparber
Release Date: September 4, 1942
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
There they meet a ‘princess Alona’ (Olive Oyl in a sarong). Her parrot warns the two suitors that if the princess get’s harmed, the volcano will erupt. In the end all turns out to be just a dream.
In this cartoon the comedy is mostly silent, and princess Alona doesn’t speak at all. Unfortunately, Jack Mercer’s jabbers are absent, too, and they are certainly missed. The result is the weakest Popeye cartoon in years.
Watch ‘Alona on the Sarong Seas’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Dan Gordon
Release Date: August 7, 1942
This film is immediately the most vicious propaganda film in Popeye’s career, and one of the most extreme cartoons of the entire World War II era. In it Popeye encounters some vicious caricatures of Japanese who doublecross him while suggesting to want to make peace. Their small boat turns out to be on top of a giant battleship which Popeye defeats singlehandedly. The cowardly admiral then commits suicide by drinking nitroglycerin and eating firecrackers, destroying the whole ship.
‘You’re a sap, Mr. Jap’ is as propagandistic as it is ferocious. In the Fleischer’s ‘Fleets of Stren’th’ from five months earlier, the enemy was still rather abstract, but in ‘You’re a sap, Mr. Jap’ the Japanese people themselves are attacked. The film was the first, but not the only one to feature extreme caricatures of Japanese, which in this cartoon are killed by the dozen. Later, cartoons like ‘Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips’ and ‘Commando Donald’ (both 1944) would follow suit.
These cartoons mark a clear difference between the two enemies: the Germans and the Japanese. While the Nazis were always portrayed as silly, the German people were almost never seen in cartoons, and when shown, they were regarded as victims of their leaders, like in ‘Education for Death‘ (1943). The Japanese, on the other hand, with their less visible regime, were treated as one and the same, from the military top to the average soldier. No doubt, a sizable dose of racism accompanied this view. And it’s views like this that resulted in the arrest and internment of American Japanese, something that also happened to Germans living in the United States, but on a much smaller scale…
In ‘You’re a sap, Mr. Jap’ the anti-Japanese sentiment results in a remarkably unfunny cartoon, and the short is more famous for its lack of politic correctness than for its humor.
Watch ‘You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 3, 1942
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Li’l Swee’Pea
Olive has brought li’l Swee’Pea with her. The baby wants to have a battleship en climbs aboard the cruiser. Popeye has a hard time catching him again.
The result is a cartoon of great comedy and excellent timing. The action includes a musical number in which Popeye is clobbered by a canon. Like in the previous Popeye cartoon, ‘Many Tanks’, Popeye’s design switches between old and new.
Watch ‘Baby wants a Bottleship’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 15, 1942
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
When Popeye passes by Bluto tricks him into his army uniform. Popeye unwillingly has to join a tank squad, which leads to hilarious antics. Only when he has eaten some spinach Popeye directs his tank out of the camp straight to Bluto, who is wooing Olive.
Jack Mercer’s ad libbing during Popeye’s tank ride is fantastic and a highlight of the cartoon, as is the extremely flexible animation on Popeye’s tank. Popeye’s design changes back and forth from the old Fleischer design to the later, more streamlined Famous design, which makes its debut in this cartoon.
Watch ‘Many Tanks’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 13, 1942
In this cartoon Popeye still is a lousy sailor, but when the battle cruiser is under attack, he once again shows what he’s able to do (see also ‘Blunder Below‘). This time the battle cruiser is attacked by a squad of Japanese dive bombers. It takes some time before Popeye is able to eat his spinach, but when he does, he turns into a plane himself, defeating the complete enemy fleet.
In this process we see only one pilot, the other planes are subtly dehumanized. In this way we’ll never think of the fate of the Japanese pilots, at all. This was a clever device used in many war propaganda films of the time.
Watch ‘Fleets of Stren’th’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 13, 1942
Popeye had joined the navy before the United States entered the war, in ‘The Mighty Navy’ (November 1941), so in ‘Blunder Below’ he’s ready to fight the enemy, the first major cartoon star to do so on the movie screen.
In the first part of this cartoon Popeye tries to be a normal sailor, among Superman-like sailors, trying to learn gunning. He is no talent, however, blundering away and almost shooting down the captain by accident.
But when a submarine approaches, Popeye shows his real worth: he beats the submarine single-handedly, saving the battle cruiser. It’s this great combination of clumsiness and superhuman powers which make Popeye such an appealing character.
The approaching submarine is accompanied by the music of Franz Schubert’s Erlkönig, indicating a German origin. However, it soon turns out to be Japanese. The submarine is anthropomorphic itself and completely dehumanized, as if it were not manned by people at all. When in August 1942 Popeye changed hands from the Fleischers to Paramount, this would radically change…
Watch ‘Blunder Below’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Alex Lovy
Release Date: August 3, 1942
‘Pigeon Patrol’ is a typical war era cartoon. It tells about Homer Pigeon, a dopey little country pigeon, whose girl Daisy May is impressed by the USA carrier pigeons, who look like American army planes.
Rejected by Daisy May, Homer decides to volunteer, too, but he’s way too small. However when he encounters a crashed carrier, he rescues an important message from an ugly Japanese vulture, beating the enemy saying: “remember Pearl Harbor and Singapore!”. In the end we watch him being decorated and happily married to Daisy May.
‘Pigeon Patrol’ is not too funny, but very propagandistic. It seems to want to emphasize that every man can do his job for the country. The Japanese vulture belongs to the typical stereotyped caricatures of a Japanese in Hollywood cartoons, complete with a suggestion of general Tojo-like glasses.
Two years later, Warner Bros. would tell another tale about a pigeon called Homer in ‘Plane Daffy‘ (1944). Their Homer commits suicide in that film. Walter Lantz’s Homer Pigeon, however, would star one other cartoon, ‘Pigeon Holed’ from 1956.
Watch ‘Pigeon Patrol’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: December 17, 1943
The villain, Foxy Loxy, uses a psychology book, from which he quotes, to lure the inhabitants of a poultry farm into his cave. The inhabitants of the poultry farm are clear representations of contemporary American society, including the upper class (turkeys), female middle class (chicken), male working class (ducks) and the youth (chickens and roosters, whom we see dancing to hot jazz in a short scene).
Foxy Loxy chooses a simpleton called Chicken Little as his main object, making him believe the sky is falling and encouraging him to spread the rumor. Originally, Foxy Loxy was to read from Adolf Hitler’s book ‘Mein Kampf’. It is not likely that the quotes are really from ‘Mein Kampf’, but they do contain surprisingly true lessons in how to manipulate the masses and how to undermine the present authority.
The film’s clear war message is not to fall for rumors and not to join mass hysteria. The film’s ending is as grim as there ever was one in a classic cartoon. In fact, the vision of a graveyard full of chicken bones is only topped by the similar ending in ‘Education for Death’ from the same year.
‘Chicken Little’ remains a little known Disney film, but its message is surprisingly fresh, and is probably even more valid today in an era in which propaganda and false rumors roam the internet and social media than it was during World War II.
‘Chicken Little’ was to be the last short directed by Clyde Geronimi before his dull comeback in ‘The big wash’ (1948). The Disney studio revisited the fable in 2005 in the feature film ‘Chicken Little’, which has ca. nothing in common with this far more interesting and disturbing short.
Watch ‘Chicken Little’ 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: Hamilton Luske
Release Date: January 7, 1944
Viddy tries to prevent Monte, who’s crazy about the practicing war planes nearby, from ‘sleep-flying’. Unfortunately to no avail…
‘The Pelican and the Snipe’ probably is the cutest cartoon relating to World War II. Told by Sterling Holloway, its story is simple and short, and about friendship instead of sex or violence. Typical in its South American setting, it was originally intended for ‘The Three Caballeros‘,released later that year.
‘ The Pelican and the Snipe’ marks Sterling Holloway’s debut as a voice over artist in a Disney short, after appearing in ‘Dumbo’ (Mr. Stork, 1941) and ‘Bambi‘ (adult Flower, 1942). Holloway would become Disney’s most favorite voice actor, providing voices and voice overs for Disney cartoons up to the late 1970s. In fact, he will be most remembered as the voice of Winnie the Pooh (1966-1974).
Watch ‘The Pelican and the Snipe’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Pelican and the Snipe’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’
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 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: June 26, 1943
Stars: Tom & Jerry
War references include a periscope, a “jeep”, (paper) planes, a bomber (throwing light bulbs), a parachute (a bra), and lots of fireworks. Tom is the clear villain now, with Jerry acting the role of the brave American soldier. At the end of the cartoon Tom explodes in the sky revealing the American flag to which Jerry salutes.
Although not a real war cartoon (Tom and Jerry do not fight Nazis or anything like that), it is drenched in war spirit. Moreover, the short is extremely fast and furious, with gags coming without any break. No wonder it won an Academy Award.
Watch ‘Yankee Doodle Mouse’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Isao Takahata
Release Date: April 16, 1988
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ is a strong, emotional and immensely sad film. It kicks in right away, when we hear Seita say “September 12, 1945. That was the night I died”.
What follows is Seita’s story: this boy, about fourteen, first loses his mother in the fire raid of Kobe, which destroys the wooden town completely. Then he and his little sister Setsuko try to live at their aunt’s place, but the initially kind woman grows increasingly hostile to them. So Seita decides to find his own living space for him and his sister in an abandoned shelter, first trying to get food by buying it, then by stealing. Unfortunately, Setsuko sickens from malnutrition, and while he finally has a real meal for her, she dies. Seita manages to build her funeral, but although not shown, the film suggests Setsuko’s death has broken his will, leading to his own death as depicted in the first scene.
The rather straightforward story is told with several flashbacks and flash-forwards and with a unique focus on details of everyday life, which really makes the two children come to life. The realism of ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ is unprecedented, the animation of Setsuko in particular being very lifelike, despite a less fluent animation technique. Never before has such a realistic and endearing child entered the animated screen.
The film’s subject matter, which confronts the Japanese viewer with the lowest point in their recent history, is daring and so is its execution, with its concise focus on human suffering, instead of heroism or action. The film makes the viewer really feel the impact of war on innocent civilians: the agony of shortages, hunger and despair, while the rest of the war remains at the background. Takahata focuses on Seita’s love for his little sister, and his struggle to shield her from the effects of war. Seita is a sympathetic character, but not without flaws. His struggle to survive and to nurture his sister is heroic, but his decision to leave his aunt is also iinduced by pride, and it’s partly his own stubbornness that prevents him from reconciling with his aunt, which may have prevented Setsuko’s death. It’s hard to blame him, though, for he’s a child himself, after all.
‘Grave of the Fireflies’ is one of the most serious animation features ever made, dealing with war and death. It’s also very sad, bringing tears to the eyes of almost every viewer. Like ‘Animal Farm‘ (1954), ‘Le planète sauvage‘ (1973) or ‘Watership Down’ (1978), ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ is one of the few truly serious animation features, expanding the medium’s subject matter, and it’s a cinematic masterpiece by any standard.
‘Grave of the Fireflies’ was released as a double bill with ‘My Neighbour Totoro‘, which is equally classic, but very different in tone, indeed.
Watch the trailer for ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Peter Lord
Release Date: 1989
This time they use an interview with one Bill Perry, an old man who tells his memories of his life in Bristol during World War II. Unlike the ‘Animated conversations’ series, however, there is room for goofy images exaggerating the tall tales of the voice over, which involve a slant house and lots of coal. The film’s images are very tongue-in-cheek, yet this film once again suffers from a bad soundtrack, and the old man’s mumblings are at times very difficult to follow, indeed.
The blending of real interviews with original and humorous images would be perfected in ‘Creature Comforts’ by Nick Park, who also animated on this film. In this sense ‘War Story’ is an important step towards Aardman’s mature style, which was to become less serious, and more cartoony, and consequently, more commercially successful.
Watch ‘War Story’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘War Story’ is available on the DVD ‘Aardman Classics’
Director: Dan Gordon
Release Date: April 26, 1943
The Superman cartoon ‘Jungle Drums’ blends the war theme with the adventure setting of ‘The Mummy Strikes‘.
This time the setting is a vague African island, populated by scary natives who are under control of some mysterious Nazis. They shoot an American plane out of the sky, which contains Lois and some secrets concerning the American fleet. While the natives try to burn Lois, Clark Kent/Superman only arrives just in time to save her.
Superman beats the Nazis, while Lois warns the US Air Force against Nazi submarines threatening the fleet. The last shot is that of an angered Hitler listening to the radio how his plans were frustrated.
Although this short, like most Superman cartoons, contains a weak and badly build story, it stands out for its great shots of scary natives, with their original camera angles, stark color designs and large shadows. The end result is arguably Superman’s best film.
Watch ‘Jungle Drums’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Superman film No. 15
To the previous Superman film: The Mummy Strikes
To the next Superman film: Underground World
Director: Isadore Sparber
Release Date: December 25, 1942
‘Destruction Inc’ was Superman’s third war cartoon, after ‘Japoteurs‘ and ‘Eleventh Hour‘ from earlier that year. Like ‘Japoteurs’ it features saboteurs on American soil, a paranoid idea, well-fed by government propaganda.
This time the danger comes from the inside: some American gangster saboteurs threaten a munition plant. Lois discovers them at a factory, but she’s captured and put inside a torpedo. Luckily Superman is in the neighborhood, not as Clark Kent, but as an elderly general. However, he only arrives just in time to rescue Lois from a certain death in a short that belongs to Superman’s more entertaining films.
‘Destruction, Inc’ opens with a shot of someone being murdered. Such a shot would open the next film, ‘The Mummy Strikes‘, too.
Watch ‘Destruction, Inc.’ yourself and tell me what you think: