ENCYCLOPEDIA OBSCURA: DONALD DUCK VS THE AXIS OF EVIL
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It's been a while since the last update, in part because I've been staying with my parents for the summer, and in part because I was really swamped in school work before that. One of the things I had to get out of the way was a paper named Of Mice and Rabbits - The Animation Industy's Position in Warfare, where I explored various animated shorts created to aid the US war effort. After reading the title of this article, you might be assuming that this is an adaptation of said paper, and you would be right. Well, it covers a handful of the material I used as basis for my paper anyway.
It should come as no surprise to regular readers that these short films gave me much joy. Well, first they confused me, and then I was baffled, and then I felt joy. After that, I kinda got the feeling you get when you walk up to a traffic light and you start wondering if the guy who got there before you really has pressed the button, right before I felt like I had been up for two consecutive nights and had drunk too much coffee to reach a deadline, a sensation that has a more logical explanation than the former. In fact, the thesis had me stopping by every single emotion I am capable of feeling, save horniness. Betty Boop was a no-show :(
All right, I'm exaggerating a bit here. I haven't been able to write for the site in a while, and I miss the opportunity to just ramble. We'll get on track now. On the eighth of December 1941, Walt Disney received a phone call from his studio manager, informing him that military forces had moved into his Burbank studio and that they weren't budging no matter what. For the next eight months, over five hundred soldiers practically lived among the animators, and over the next few years Disney produced 75 animated educational shorts for the military as well as a handful of pieces to entertain and inform the public. The former are a bitch getting hold of, but I've been able to obtain most of the public ones. I will now tell you about three shorts starring Donald Duck.
THE SPIRIT OF '43
A lot of the work Disney did of course involved encouraging people to buy war bonds. Also, the tax reform of 1941 resulted in seven million citizens suddenly liable to pay taxes. To prevent riots (and because prosecuting seven million people would demand a fair share of resourses), the authorities asked the House of Mouse if they could help convince the masses that paying up equaled happy. The result was a short animated announcement called The Spirit of '43.
In Spirit..., Donald cashes in his paycheck and is unsure how to best spend his money. Two aspects of his personality materialize: 'Thrift' and 'Spendthrift'. The thrifty guy may look like Uncle Scrooge, but the Scottish mogul didn't appear until 1947, so this is probably a 'proto-Scrooge' which inspired Carl Barks a few years down the road. Which means that if it wasn't for Hitler, Don Rosa wouldn't have done all those fantastic Scrooge stories forty years later. I'm not saying the war was a good thing, but when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. I learned that from Scrooge, because he's too cheap to buy lemonade. Because he's from Scotland.
Pseudo-Scrooge tells Donald that he should save some of his money to pay his taxes like a true American. The spendthrifty persona reminds Donald that this is his money, and that he should be able to spend it however he wishes. Like blowing it all on booze and chicks at a night club, a suggestion he happily accepts. That Donald, always thinking with his cloaca.
During a violent tug-of-war with Donald as tugee, the two personas lose their grip and fly in opposite directions. Spendy flies straight through the swing doors of his night club, revealing that the doors form a swastika. This is no normal night club for ducks! This is a Nazi night club! A fright night club! A genetische Reinheit night club! An Aryan white might night club! In political terms as far as you could possible get to the right night club!
I probably should have stopped at 'fright night club'. Yeah.
Thrifty crashes into a brick wall with such force it smashes the plaster to bits. But this is no ordinary brick wall! This is a... hmmm... slick... hick... no... kick... Oh what the hell, it's a brick wall that looks like an American flag it you take the plaster off and put cartoony pain stars in the window in it. Brick walls don't lie, and Donald learns thus that every dollar wasted is a dollar spent on Hitler. But what are tax dollars spent on?
Well, according to the narrator, they're spent on 'factories making guns. Machine guns! Anti-tank guns! Long-range guns! Guns! Ghuuns! all kinds of ghhuuns!' So yeah, they're spent on guns. Also: planes ('Bombers! Dive bombers! Flying fortesses. Interceptors!') as well as ships ('Battle ships! Battle cruisers! Destroyers! All kinds of battle wagons!'). If I was Disney, I would probably not have made all the American machines look like child-eating behemoths and the Nazi planes and submarines look like cool sharks, and I certainly would pick a narrator that could say the word 'guns' without wearing a bib. But hey, what do I know?
In Commando Duck (1944), one of the very last of Disney's war-related shorts, Donald is sent out by an officer to single-handedly approach a Japanese airport and 'contact the enemy, surround them and wipe them out.' First however, he must make it down a river swarming with man-eating crocodiles and Japanese snipers. If he had taken his time and looked around a little, he probably would have spotted the snipers right off the bat, as they wear camouflage that emphasizes Japanese stereotypical facial features.
One of the main reasons these films practically are impossible to find except through file-sharing clients, is the portrayal of minorities and foreign cultures. The Japanese stereotype during the war was a short man with buckteeth, slant-eyes, big ears, round glasses, kimono and an inclination for double-crossing everyone and everything. The Japanese people were described as overly polite and honourable while you were facing them, but one could expect an imported salmon to the back of the head when the little imps were unattended. In Commando Duck, the snipers are so caught up in honorary behaviour that they only just get around to actually opening fire on the duck. Example: when the sniper hiding in the tree in the image above is aiming at Donald, another soldier disguised as a rock stands up and thus inadvertently bends the former's gun.
Now, am I ripe for coming out of the closet, or do you see a phallus on that trunk too? Jesus Christ, I'm beginning to think this site is an entire big Freudian slip. Nah, that's a penis. I'm willing to write off the tower on the Little Mermaid poster as an accident, but this one seems a little too deliberate to be kosher. Well, it looks like it's circumcised, so I guess you can say it's kosher. Hoookay, this piece's penis quota is met, back to the snipers. While the two commence what seems to be a duel of courtesy and start bowing at each other at such speed it becomes difficult for the human eye to actually perceive what's going on, Donald paddles onwards to another group of snipers. This time, they're caught up in the proper etiquette concerning assassination:
After a while they can open fire, and Donald has to paddle for his life. Soon however, he finds himself between a rock and a hard place: he's about to be swept down a waterfall. Well, between flying metal and a soft wet place, then. He's able to throw a lasso around a rock just in time, but a Japanese sniper decides he 'must a shooting se rope right in se center of se middle just rike se Rone Ranger,' and Donald plummets to his doom. Well, he doesn't really, the boat is caught by a branch growing out of the canyon wall right below the waterfall and, being made from American super rubber, it's capable of turning into a fifty-million gallon waterballoon. Donald manages to swim/climb out, and runs for his life as the canyon is filled with swelling dinghy. It looks like he's about to make it, but as we all know, a waterballoon can't last forever. Ah, I distinctly remember the soft yet firm feeling of a sun-warmed waterballoon in my hands, a strange appeal the young man can't really explain until his hormones kick in full-throttle. See? I'm straight. Looks like your field day is cancelled, Sigmund.
Donald gets out in time, but the Japanese people at the airport?
All drowned. Mission accomplished.
DER FUEHRER'S FACE
In Der Fuehrer's Face (1944), the first thing we see is a Schlagzeuger band marching while performing the title song. This song was in fact so popular that the original title of this short (Donald Duck in Nutzi Land) was changed to boost the popularity of the film. Not that it needed more publicity after it won an Oscar for best animated short. The band consists mainly of sturdy German soldiers, but the always unbiased Nazis let a Japanese guy join them in praising the Führer. The musicians aren't just out to tell the world what a great guy Hitler is though, they're also out to wake everyone up. It is after all four o'clock, and a new day is breaking.
Donald starts his day by heiling pictures of Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini before starting to prepare his breakfast. Wartime rationing makes noone fat, and week-old bread can be tough getting down. It's a good thing Donald has some breakfast reading to entertain him while he's chewing crusts that would break his teeth if he had any. Cereal boxes were scarce at the time, but the best-seller Mein Kampf wasn't too hard to come by.
Hearing Donald shout 'Heil Hitler! Heil Hirohito! Heil Mussolini!' is one of the things you just can't not be a little shocked by, even if prepared. At the time, Hitler was considered a dangerous man and a real threat, but the US government and military knew little or none about what was going on in the camps. Today, when we are painfully aware of what was going on beneath the surface of the Third Reich and have acquired a certain perspective on matters, the way Disney of all companies takes these matters lightly feels eerily improper.
After washing the stale bread down with a cup of coffee (a cup of water with a coffee bean dipped in it a couple of times), Donald is escorted to work. 48-hour work days at an ammunition-and-hitler-picture factory can drive anyone nuts, and the fact that all workers are forced to heil every picture of Hitler that passes down the conveyor belt doesn't exactly help. After a thirty-second paid vacation with mandatory exercise, Donald is told he's been chosen to work overtime at double speed, to which he reacts by spiralling down into madness. This is illustrated in a sequence too trippy for words, and I can honestly say I've never seen as many swasticas in one place before. But luckily for Donald, this was all a dream. When he wakes up, he finds himself wearing his stars-and-stripes themed pajamas in his stars-and-stripes themed bedroom. 'Oh boy, I'm glad to be a citizen of the United States of America,' he exclaims as he kisses his Lady Liberty statuette.
This short is actually pretty damned good if you can make yourself ignore the fact that it's propaganda. The animation is great, the timing is excellent, and the theme song is so frigging catchy I can't get it out of my head. None of these shorts are that difficult to find these days if you search for them through a file-share client, and I really recommend you check this one out. I'd put it up for download, but then I'd have to delete the site to make room for it.
Well, that's the end of the line for now. I'm not completely done with these shorts though, but I'll get back to that in a moment. First I would like to announce that I recently finished my final exams, and that the weeks I spent reading about French film theorists and Soviet montage techniques have left me with a serious case of writer's blueballs. I've still got a lot to do these days, but expect more rapid fire from this site in the near future. I've got a lot of new ideas as well as plans for follow-ups to a few of the best received pieces, and there are some semi-big changes and additions in the works. I'm not saying what these are, since I don't know for sure what is going to work out and what's going to explode in the hangar and break families up.
Ooh, and speaking of the Axis of Evil: I'm a columnist for a magazine with this very name, and the second issue is now to be found in a store near you. If Philadelphia and New York is near you.
I've got enough material to do some follow-ups to this article, and I'll link to all related pieces below as soon as they're ready. I'll also be doing some related stuff for I-Mockery, so drop by for more hitleriffic animated shorts and PSAs from hell.
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Copyright Per Arne Sandvik