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Walt Disney’s War Propaganda

Updated September 10, 2022
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Walt Disney’s War Propaganda essay

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Abstract

This investigation will answer the question: “In what ways did Walt Disney’s war propaganda encourage American citizens to support the war effort from 1939-1945?”. To answer this question, the short films, and the actions Walt Disney studio took need to be evaluated.

My first source is the original animation Der Fuehrers Face, released in 1943 by Walt Disney Studios. This was released during WWII so it is very relevant to the topic of discussion. Walt Disney portrays Donald Duck as a Nazi and shows the viewers what it was like being a Nazi in Germany , however, Walt Disney exaggerates much of the images of the Axis powers. Through his animations, Walt shows the terrible conditions that the Nazi workers did but at the same time portrayed them as silly cartoon characters. This primary source is reliable because this was released during the middle of WWII, by the original creator of Disney, Walt Disney.

This source gives historians a clear view on what the public opinion on the war was like during the WWII era. It is clear to see Walt Disney’s. However, it is very political influenced and censored by the government to make sure that the public opinion stays in support for the war effort. The purpose of this source is to give a perfect image of what the people saw, who lived during WWII. This source gives legitimacy, and details of the propaganda created by Walt Disney. However, this source does not give any details as to how it affected the civilians support for the war. But it remains a reliable source for the content that was given in the short films produced by Disney.

The second source is a master’s thesis that was written by Amanda Cunningham, from the University of Nevada Las Vegas in 2014 entitled, Walt Disney and the Propaganda Complex: Government Funded Animation and Hollywood Complicity During WWII. Cunningham writes of how the government and Disney were able to work together to help aid the war. By working together, they achieved an increased people paying their taxes, and an increase public opinion on the world war. This thesis gives great detail on the history of the war and of the Disney legacy and how the government was able to use Disney’s reputation to shift the public opinion.

The value of this thesis for historians is it a research paper written by a student in the master’s program at UNLV and supervised by many colleagues with Ph. D.’s. This means that there is a lot of reliability in the source. The author is a student that has spent lots of time researching the topic, and the history professors who grade and review the papers weigh in on the investigation as well. There is a lot of quality information in this source, however, this is a thesis, so it is not a primary source and involves a lot of outside research which may have not been fully correct.

It was also written in 2014, many years after the war and can have bias that would not have been present during the 1940’s. The purpose of this source is to give reliable, sufficient information on how the government was involved with Disney’s production of the films, and to give qualitative information on the films themselves and how they influenced the war. However, since this is a secondary source written by a college student in the 21st century, the information gathered could be more biased towards the good effects, and purposes of the Disney’s involvement of WWII.

Introduction

When one thinks of a topic like war, one will usually think of soldiers on the battle front fighting the other side. However, during World War II, a new wave of propaganda, exemplified by Walt Disney, changed the views of the war to the American citizens. Walt Disney used comics, and short films starring Disney’s most beloved characters like Donald Duck, to get the American citizens on board with the war effort. These forms of propaganda led to the American citizens learning more about the war and learning all the information they needed to know. Not only did these comics and films help the citizens on America’s soil, it even boosted moral for the soldiers that were on enemy grounds fighting the war.

Walt Disney published many comics, audio tapes, and films to aid American support for the war, some of these include the famous films “Der Fuehrers Face”, “Commando Duck”, and comics such as his original “Walt Disney’s Comics”, in which the first edition was issued on January of 1942. In the years 1940-1942, the need for support of the war effort was in high demand, for the U.S. to succeed there would need to be a lot of support. Walt Disney saw this and began to act by making many forms of propaganda to help. through the use of many forms of propaganda, Walt Disney was able to shift the American citizens to support the war effort during World War II from 1940-1943.

Analysis

Pre-WWII

When the United States joined the war, their involvement changed the course of the whole war, and it also changed the success of Walt Disney as well. The production of the propaganda with the government led to the growth of Disney’s popularity in America. Before America entered the war, Walt Disney was facing many problems involving his studios. These issues were brought upon by many problems, one being the war. The animators strike on 1942 and the war cutting off international profits, nearly brought Walt Disney’s studio to bankruptcy. However, the United States entrance into the War in Europe was a very helpful thing for Walt Disney and his studios.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States Armed forces commandeered Disney studio space in Burbank, California. Though this may have seemed bad for Disney studios, it was actually beneficial for them because it gave them a inside view on the army and how it all worked from within. This insight led to Walt Disney being able to create propaganda that is very accurate, but he would also be able to help the citizens learn more and push for more American support.

Propaganda

Walt Disney produced many short films to help influence the American people to support the war effort. Some of those films were ‘Der Fuehrers Face’ (appendix i), and ‘Commando Duck’ , both staring the famous Donald Duck. Walt Disney directed these short films so that he could help out the government in pushing for American support of the war. In these films, Disney used very common propaganda tactics to influence the American citizens, whether it is exaggerated physical features, hyperbolized images, and any other form of exaggeration.

In one of Walt Disney’s short films Der Fuehrers Face, it begins with four Nazi followers marching and singing a song for Hitler . Early in this film, Walt already used many tricks that Disney used while making their films by adding comedy all throughout the film, and he did this to make the citizens who were watching it be able to understand what they were seeing because of the simplicity. In this short film Donald Duck is the main character and he is a German factory worker and is dressed as a Nazi while working for Hitler. Walt Disney directed this film to make fun of the Axis powers but, at the same time, shows the conditions that many of the workers had to deal with, showing how cruel Hitler and the Nazi’s were.

Walt did this to show to the Americans how their army soldiers were living and what they had to fight, and this led to Americans pushing to help end the war and end these harsh conditions all around. However, Walt still used his Disney magic to make American citizens want to watch these films of such dark events. Der Fuehrer’s Face shows the struggles that went with living in such authoritarian state as Nazi Germany. Walt Disney wanted the American citizens to see this so they would feel inclined to intervene in the war so that Hitler could be shut down and hopefully there could not be those horrible conditions as a norm in any place on the earth.

The production of this film had an effect on persuading people to buy things that help the war effort like, paying their taxes, or buying war bonds. The use of Donald Duck at the end hugging and thanking he is a citizen of the United States boosts national support in the citizens. Another very influential film, is the other Donald Duck stared 10 minuet film, Commando Duck. (appendix ii.) This film follows a similar path as the Der Fuehrers Face. However, this film was focused more on the whole field part of the war, not just the conditions in the previous film.

The film begins with Donald Duck being dropped into the enemy territory, and is forced to go find the enemy base and complete his mission. Walt Disney really took a different approach compared to Der Fuehrers Face because this reference to Pearl Harbor, caused for the American citizens feel a sense of pride in destroying the Japanese base, while at the same time, pushing for the ending of the war and bringing back the soldiers that were fighting. This film attempted to influence the American people to back the soldiers in combat overseas in the warfront.

Conclusion

Starting from before the war even begun, Walt Disney needed a boost to help keep his company from bankruptcy. Along with this, the country needed a boost in support for our troops on the enemy lines, the American entrance into the war led to a better for both situations. The films and the comics Disney produced help caused a shift in the citizen support for the war effort. The films that Walt Disney produced, while being as comedic as any other Disney produced short film, were very influential on the citizens by showing them what the war was like, and it pushed them to want to put an end to all the war and all conflict in Europe.

Reflection

When beginning my Internal Assessment, I had to put myself into the eyes of a historian. I had to try and think and evaluate as if I was a historian studying the effect of Walt Disney propaganda on WWII. To find the right sources I had to go look for cites that are written by scholars, not just any regular website. When I searched, I found many theses and original videos that gave me very clear evaluation of the topic I was studying. The problems that I faced, and which many historians face, is the sources I found were not directly relating solely to my topic of interest.

Many of them referenced and gave valuable information for my evaluation, but to find this information I had to go search deep into the theses and pull out any of the information relating to my topic. For example, in the thesis “Walt Disney and the Propaganda Complex: Government Funded Animation and Hollywood Complicity During WWII”, there was a lot of information relating to how Disney and the government were working together for more economic gain , rather than the effects of the propaganda on the citizens.

I had to look deep into my sources to find the information that actually worked with how Disney propaganda influenced American citizens. Another problem I faced was I had to focus on the values and limitations of the sources I had to find. There were a lot of values, like my primary sources, and my published theses proved reliable content, but I also had limitations with how some of the content didn’t fit exactly with my topic. When writing this essay, I realized how difficult it was to be in the eyes of a historian and write a quality essay.

Walt Disney’s War Propaganda essay

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Walt Disney’s War Propaganda. (2021, Dec 29). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/walt-disneys-war-propaganda/

FAQ

Did Walt Disney support the war?
Between 1941 and 1945, during World War II, Walt Disney was involved in the production of propaganda films for the U.S. government . The widespread familiarity of Disney's productions benefited the U.S. government in producing pro-American war propaganda in an effort to increase support for the war.
How did Walt Disney contribute to war?
Throughout the early 1940s, Disney churned out military training films, educational shorts (provided to the U.S. government at cost), and military insignia for over 1,000 different units in the U.S. armed forces (provided free of charge).
How did Walt Disney use propaganda?
Disney took on the task of making propaganda more palatable to the American people through the use of cartoons . American public opinion on propaganda influenced the characteristics and themes of each cartoon. Disney utilized four methods to accomplish their purpose: the use of color, theme, humor, and music.
Why did Walt Disney make propaganda films?
Between 1941 and 1945, during World War II, Walt Disney was involved in the production of propaganda films for the U.S. government. The widespread familiarity of Disney's productions benefited the U.S. government in producing pro-American war propaganda in an effort to increase support for the war .
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