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Disney Goes to War

It’s the year 1944. Imagine sitting in a Navy Vessel, preparing for an invasion of Normandy, with at least 50 men per boat, no less than 10,000 vessels total. There is barely any elbow room, waves crashing against the sides of the boat, tilting it back and forth as feet become soaked from the water on the floor.  Nobody is talking. The only sound that is heard is the occasional vomit of a soldier that is sea sick and the thundering of the ocean that surrounds the vessel.  Stomachs twist in knots as fear of life or death fight through ones mind.  Some men are holding pictures of loved ones, some are praying, and some are on the verge of tears as memories of their lives flash through their minds.  In hope of finding something to keep up the fighting spirits, eyes wander to the characters of Donald Duck and Goofy, the Disney cartoons that have been tattooed on war machines and military uniform sleeves. Envision sitting at home with the family surrounding the television as the same cartoons flash across the screen to educate the viewers about what they can do to help win the war from home.  After watching the same characters that were tattooed on the war machines and military uniform sleeve, they decide that the want to help any way they can to help win the war.  Disney serves many meanings to different people and have become of much importance in the war over the Axis Powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan.  These cartoons boosted the morale of soldiers in battle, influenced and educated both the public and soldiers about the war.  Disney was a major factor in the Allied victory of World War II by the change of their traditional family comedy into political and educational cartoons.

Disney’s political and educational cartoons during World War II were geared to teach the public and soldiers about the war and how they could contribute to winning it. In order to do this, Disney Studios created many educational short films. Short films such as “Seven Wise Dwarfs” and “The New Spirit” promoted buying war bonds to help fund the war.   Not only did they make short films but Disney also made children’s books that were used to teach children different ways they can spend their money to help pay for the war that would pay back when the war was over.  Disney also made many training films for the soldiers. Some of these films included “Education for Death” and “Reason and Emotion”, which were used to show the Allied soldiers that they should lead with reason.  “Education for Death” revolved around the making of a Nazi which tied together with “Reason and Emotion” because if you were led by emotion, then you were the same as a Nazi, who seemed to have no reason and led with only emotion. According to the Encyclopedia Online, “Disney produced over 400,000 feet of educational war films, most at cost, which was equal to 68 hours of continuous film. In 1943 alone, 204,000 feet of film was produced” (1).  With this abundance of film, it shows just how dedicated Disney was in trying to help win the war. There were other types of training films that were used to teach the armed forces about different military tactics they could use during battle, which turned out to be extremely important to the new recruits. They were taught a wide range of things from camouflage, to navigational techniques.

Not only did Disney teach soldiers and the public about war, but also influenced them in many ways.  The cartoons that Disney produced during World War II influenced the public and the soldiers to help however they could to get the war over and done with, with the victory in our hands.  Disney’s short films, “All Together” and “Donald’s Decision”, were used to show the public about buying war bonds and how it could help win the war.  Many people confessed that after watching the family favorites that they were compelled to buy the items that were being advertised not only because they thought it was an important investment but also because their beloved family films had put in the effort to reach out to the public with ways they could help win the war.  “Food Will Win the War” was a short that was created to teach the public about victory gardens.  The film showed the viewers how to create the gardens, the right way to use them, and what they could do with the extra rations.  Another short film that was made to teach the public ways they could help win the war without giving up money is “Out of the Frying Pan and into the Firing Line”.  This short was created specifically for the cooks of a household.  They showed the viewers ways they could save their food grease and give it to their local general store that would, in turn, be used during battle for weapons and other small goods.  Not only did the films influence the home front, but also influenced the front lines.  Disney had at least a thousand requests of unique designs with the family favorite cartoon characters for different military equipment such as aircrafts, tanks, and navy vessels. Baxter says, “Most of the designs featured Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofy, and Jiminy Cricket.  It is said that we today find it hard to appreciate the way it felt for the soldiers to be represented by Disney, not only because it is a reminder of home, but also because this was a popular thing at home and they went out of their way to show their support of the men that risked their lives for their country”(1).  The influence Disney had over the people was so great that they were proud to have Disney represent them, even in war.Â

Disney’s influence was so strong that it could even boost the soldiers morale in war.  Disney became a go-to in case the front lines needed a little boost.  The propaganda films that were produced at the Disney Studios served as reminders of home and also served as a connection as to what was going on in the war and something the servicemen could relate to it.  In the propaganda short, “Fall Out – Fall In”, Donald Duck is featured as an American soldier who is marching for an endless amount of time through miserable conditions.  Here Donald is pictured carrying a large army bag that holds the necessities while he marches through deserts, rain storms, snow storms, and long nights without any sleep.  When he is finally allowed to sleep, he is told to pitch his tent before he can eat with his fellow comrades, but when pitching the tent, he had extreme difficulties and by the time he gets it, it is night.  When he tries to fall asleep he hears snoring, random instrument playing and becomes frustrated.  This work relates to the endurance, patience, and morale these soldiers need to keep going not only for them to survive but also for their families back home and for their country.  When soldiers see this film they automatically relate to it because that is what they are doing, and they recognize the struggles Donald is going through.  According to Briner, “When being reminded by all of these short films, they become eager to get the war over with so they can come home, boosting their morale to help them fight harder and longer”(1). The importance it held to them was strong enough make them fight harder and longer.  They recognize the difficulties and push through after their relations with the films that serve as morale boosting tools.

In conclusion, Disney’s service in the war through their political and educational cartoons helped the Allied Forces fight their way to victory over the Axis Powers in World War II.  Disney’s impact on the United States was so great that it followed soldiers to war.  People thought of these cartoons as a connection to home, and they all needed some type of a reminder of home.  The families that were left at home would see these images that mimicked what their loved ones were doing in the war and help anyway they possibly could after being taught the right ways to help.  Disney has had a bigger impact on our lives than we could ever imagine, big enough, to help us win a war.