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Walt Disney produced propaganda films for the U.S. government during WWII

Tijana Radeska
Donald Duck

During World War II, Donald Duck, and Mickey Mouse weren’t just about entertainment. Film studios used animated characters to spread propaganda and educate Americans about their enemies.

And the animators themselves were employed to make insignia for military units and equipment.

Der Fuehrer's Face

Der Fuehrer’s Face. Source

During World War II, Disney made films for every branch of the U.S. military and government. The government looked to Walt Disney more than any other studio chief as a builder of public morale providing instruction and training the sailors and soldiers.

This was accomplished through the use of animated graphics by means of expediting the intelligent mobilization of servicemen and civilians for the cause of the war. Over 90% of Disney employees were devoted to the production of training and propaganda films for the government.

Throughout the duration of the war, Disney produced over 400,000 feet of educational war films, which is equal to 68 hours of continuous film. In 1943 alone, 204,000 feet of film was produced.

The New Spirit

The New Spirit. Source

Disney employees created educational films for various federal agencies, including a 1942 animated short, “The New Spirit,” commissioned by the Treasury Department to encourage people to pay their income taxes as a way to support the war effort.

The film, which starred Donald Duck, was shown in thousands of movie theaters and even earned an Academy Award nomination. The Disney studio also made training films for the American military, and created, free-of-charge, more than a thousand insignia for military units; the designs centered around established Disney characters as well as new characters.

Original theatrical film poster

Original theatrical film poster. Source

 

Donald in Der Fuehrer's face

Donald in Der Fuehrer’s face. Source

 

Donald salutes the Fuehrer

Donald salutes the Fuehrer. Source

Although Walt initially was reluctant to risk tarnishing his image as a non-political entertainer by producing blatantly propagandist works, his team eventually turned out animated shorts such as 1943’s “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” which made fun of the Nazis and again starred Donald Duck.

Additionally, after reading the 1942 best-seller “Victory Through Air Power” by Major Alexander de Seversky, Walt, driven by his own patriotism, decided to adapt it as a 1943 live action-animated feature of the same name.

Victory Through Air Power poster

Victory Through Air Power poster. Source

Both President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill saw the film, which reportedly made an impression on them.