Animation at War brings back patriotic
cartoons from the past
Thursday, November 6, 2003
by Sheila Hagen and Shoshana Lewin, staff writers
During World War II, everything seemed to be a bit topsy-turvy. Nowhere
was this more evident than in animation where Adolf Hitler was depicted
as a vulture and cartoon gremlins from the Kremlin protected
Moscow from the Nazi invasion. Crazy? Not if you were at Disney, Warner
Bros., MGM or Columbia/Screen Gems.
The program for the Animation at War screening. Image courtesy of the
Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
In the wake of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. government asked for Hollywood's
aid in promoting patriotism, creating informational films for military
personnel and even telling those on the homefront that they could support
the war effort by saving bacon fat.
Those films, and their historic significance, brought animation loversand
the men and women involved in their creationto the Academy of Motion
Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills on Wednesday, October 22 for
Animation at War.
Among the animators in the audience who were recognized for their contributions
were Paul Sommer, who animated several shorts for Screen Gems; Ed Friedman
(director of the He-Man and She-Ra cartoon series) who also
worked for Screen Gems; Alice Davis, wife of Disney legend Marc Davis
(one of Disney's Nine Old Men and who contributed animation for Victory
Through Air Power"); and Bill Justice, who was worked on more than 60
Disney films, including Victory Through Air Power and the
Spoonful of Sugar sequence in Mary Poppins.
The audience was treated to six animated shorts (one longer and five
shorter)some of which have not been out of the vault in several
decades. In addition to the screen, a question-and-answer session moderated
by animation film historian Jerry Beck, featured film critic Leonard Maltin;
former ink-and-paint girl Martha Sigall, and Disney animator David Bossert.
Disney legend Joe Grant, who was scheduled to be at the panel, was unable
to attend, but an interview with him will be included in the soon-to-be-released
Walt Disney Treasures DVD, Walt Disney On the Front Lines,
tentatively scheduled to be released on December 2, 2003.
Walt Disney On The Front Lines. Image courtesy of Buena Vista
Jerry Beck provided an introduction for each film, relating interesting
facts about them. As an introductory disclaimer, he noted that although
some characters may seem harsh,. they were meant to be caricatures and
that the shorts were not aimed at children but to a general audience.
On Song of Victory, a Screen Gems [now Columbia] productions,
Beck pointed out how the letter V was used repeatedly in the
For Disney's Out of the Frying Pan Into the Firing Line,
Beck noted that there was a portrait of Mickey Mouse in uniform and that
this instance was the only time during all of World War II that Mickey
was so shown. This three-minute short extolled the virtues of saving cooking
fat so that bullets and other munitions could be produced in the war effort.
One of the main animators for Disney's Reason and Emotion
was Ward Kimball. He had a huge influence on this Oscar-nominated film,
which argued that reason should be used to defeat the Axis powers because
Hitler used emotions to increase Nazi power. Kimball used his own likeness
for the Caveman character (emotion), and Kimball's trademarked horn-rimmed
glasses adorned the Reason character.
Russian Rhapsody was based on the Roald Dahl novel, The
Gremlins, and although Disney wanted to do the project, they abandoned
it when Warner Bros. developed their own version. Russian Rhapsody
featured the wacky animation of Bob Clampett and the voice of Mel Blanc
for Hitler. Scores of Russian-accented gremlins attacked a plane piloted
by Hitler in an effort to defend their Russian homeland.
The Blitz Wolf cartoon was the famed Tex Avery's first cartoon
at MGM. It features Avery's frequently appearing cartoon wolf character
as a thinly disguised Hitler and the Three Little Pigs as his foes.
MGM's Oscar Nominee, Blitz Wolf. Image courtesy of MGM.
The finale of the screening was Disney's Victory Through Air Power,
based on the book by Alexander P. de Seversky, detailing how air power
was the Allies' only hope in beating the Axis powers whose supply chain
was almost unbreakable. The opening Wright Bros. animation featured the
whimsical characters of Ward Kimball while the finale featured animation
by Marc Davis.
After the screening of the six animation features was a question-and-answer
session featuring many stories about Hollywood's contribution to the war
effort that are not generally known. The following are some notable views
and exchanges from the panel members:
On Victory Through Air Power
David Bossert: Victory Through Air Power was the precursor
to the look and feel of the 1950s show, The Wonderful World of Disney".
It featured segments of Seversky talking to the audience with graphs and
charts, which would be how Walt Disney introduced his show. He also pointed
out that Victory Through Air Power was the missing link between
the animation of pre-WWII and the post-war ambitions of Disney... The
Disney studios located near the Lockheed plant in Burbank, they filmed
live action features at night because the soundstages were not that quiet.
Leonard Maltin: Disney was not really equipped at the time for
live-action. They were an animation studio and did not have to worry about
Bossert: Disney tried to get a copy of Victory Through Air
Power to Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Roosevelt's chief of staff was
a Navy guy and it never got to him. So, while FDR and Winston Churchill
were in Quebec attending a conference, a print was rushed up there for
FDR and Churchill to see it.
Maltin: It changed FDR's way of thinking - he agreed that Seversky
Bossert: They were planning D-Day at the conference and it had
an impact on the end of the war.
On types of war cartoons
Maltin: Everyone signed up for the war. One of my favorite pieces
shows Popeye, who became an actual sailor. Pearl Harbor occurred in December
1941, so there was a time lag before the films could be produced and released.
There were two types of animation: one, morale-building and two, let's
make fun of them. Prior to Pearl Harbor, Hollywood had a hands-off attitude
about the war.
Bossert: The Donald Duck cartoon, The New Spirit,
was a terrific cartoon. Walt agreed to do the cartoon and they got it
out in six to seven weeks. The Secretary of the Treasury had to go to
Congress to get funds to pay Walt. Some Congressmen thought Walt was trying
to be a war profiteer. Despite the obstacles, Walt even agreed to do a
Maltin: The purpose of The New Spirit was to inspire
Americans to pay taxes on timeand gladlybecause this was the
money that would help us win the war. And it worked! Taxes had never been
filed so promptly.
The panelists pointed out that many of the animation in the war-themed
cartoons were recycled from other cartoons. The fat in Out
of the Frying Pan was actually the whirlpool from The Sorcerer's
Apprentice, while scenes were used from Bambi for fire
and rain sequences.
On patriotic loyalty
Martha Sigall: The day after Pearl Harbor, we heard FDR talk about
the day that would live in infamy. Leon Schlessinger got a contract for
doing Private Snafu (military jargon for situation normal,
all fouled up). The FBI fingerprinted everyone. The FBI even asked
our neighbors if we were loyal Americans. We were only given 10 cells
at a time to work on.
Maltin: Disney did training films for bomb sites, which were classified
top-secret. The logistics of making films were really difficult
Bossert: One group would do one segment at a time. No one ever
knew what the full project was.
On women and the war
Sigall: We [Warner Bros.] did a short Point Rationing of
Foods to show housewives how to ration. I never saw that picture.
Maltin: Everybody really pulled together in an amazing way for
the greater cause. Working nights. Working on something just because you
believed in it.
Sigall: In 1943, I was promoted to camerawoman doing training
films for the Navy. There were no women in the camera department. But
the Cameraman's Union gave me a work permit. But I was told that as soon
as the war was over, my permit would be revoked. And on V-J Day, August
14, 1945, we all lost our jobs. Then there was a telephone call revoking
my work permit.
On animation in conflicts after WWII
Beck: Did animation play a part in Korea and Vietnam?
Maltin: Fairly short answer? No. Victory through police
action"? [laughter from audience] The mobilization wasn't there. In Victory
Through Air Power, there was no feeling of Walt's presence in the
moviebut it was his movie. Every studio made tremendous contributions:
at Hal Roach studios (known as Fort Roach as it was occupied by military
personnel), Darryl Zanuck, Jack Warner. Walt was unable to do commercial
work because of the war.
Bossert: Victory Through Air Power broke even or lost
money when it was released.
Maltin: It was courageous and foolhardy for Disney to do. He probably
stole animators from other projects.
Bossert: The Axis powers tried to use animation as well. Japan
and Germany did a bunch of animation films. Goebbels (Hitler's propaganda
minister) got prints of Disney cartoons to show to Hitler. Hitler felt
Germany could produce animation just as well as Disney.
Maltin: The military moved onto the Disney lot during the war.
Disney created over 200 war pieces. One Navy training film had 38 parts.
Bossert: Disney even made a film on VD (veneral disease) as an
Army training film. He also had a military officer live in his studio
office for four months.
Maltin: The Roach studios contributed too.
Sigall: But everything at the Roach studios was destroyed and
buried after the war. During the war, the army personnel stationed at
the Roach studios drove home at night because there was no room. And Hal
Roach's mother, who lived on the lot, refused to leave; she had a victory
Bossert: Donald Duck became more popular during this time.
Beck: Bugs and Popeye were also popular because they represented
the U.S. attitude at the time.
Maltin: Everyone who came to Hollywood wanted to meet Walt Disney.
He was like royalty. H.C. Potter [the director of Victory Through
Air Power] had to help Seversky be comfortable in front of the camera
since at that point no one really talked to the camera in that way.
When asked by an audience member why Victory Through Air Power
has not been shown since the war, Leonard Maltin responded:
The studios are afraid to offend anybody. We live in an era where everyone
gets offended. When the Bugs and Daffy Go To War video was
released, there were some cartoons they still couldn't put out. A Japanese
woman deeply offended by the cartoon Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips
complained to Warner Bros. Warner Bros. pulled the video from distribution.
The studios don't want to be charged with being racist, sexist, etc.
Everybody is hyper-sensitized. The studios don't want to offend people
no longer their enemies. Now, we are releasing them today with the proper
introduction and proper warnings so that kids won't be scarred for life.
Animation at War was a presentation by the
Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, and it highlighted some of
Hollywood's most notable war animation
The screening and panel discussion were held Wednesday,
October 22, 2003 at the MPAAs Samuel Goldwyn Theatre at Wilshire
Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Program:
7:00 Doors Open Special Display of archival animation
materials from Disneys Animation Research Library in the
Afterwards, Panel Discussion with:
Leonard Maltin, Film Historian/Entertainment Tonight
Joe Grant, Disney Animator/Animation contributor to several
Dave Bossert, Walt Disney Treasures Producer/WD Feature Animation
Hosted by: Jerry Beck, noted Animation Historian
Animation at War was presented in advance
of Walt Disney Home Entertainment's debut of the limited-edition DVD Walt
Disney Treasures On the Front Lines
Walt Disney Treasures On the Front Lines
is being released on Tuesday, December 2, 2003. Regularly priced at $32.99,
you can purchase a copy from Amazon for 30 percent off at $23.09. Order
your copy from Amazon via this
The third installment of the limited-edition DVD line
WALT DISNEY TREASURES includes rare vintage Disney archival material that
has never been available on DVD.
This release includes On The Front Lines
a first-ever, DVD set featuring many of the Disney-animated training,
propaganda, and educational films that Walt Disneys team created
for the Armed Forces during World War II.
Including shorts with Mikey and Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Pluto
and more, the DVD release also includes Victory Through Air Power,
a rarely seen propaganda film that Walt is said to have considered his
studios greatest contribution to the war effort.
The Foundations of Magic (formerly Architects of Magic) column looks at the important building blocks that formed the basis of Walt Disney's dream, and includes a look at Disney history, Disney lore, and important Disney individualsparticularly Imagineers and artistswho made significant contributions to Walt Disney's dream.
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