When Donald Duck (and Disney Studios) Went To War
Significantly, on December 8, 1941, the day after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor the Disney brothers woke up to more news.
The United States Army had moved into their studio in Burbank.
Disney Studios: On the Home Front
[During the war] The New York Times singled out Donald Duck… as an “ambassador-at-large, a salesman of the American Way.”
By the end of the war, however, the title… may well have belonged to Walt Disney himself.
Disney’s characters in war-related work helped to strengthen the perception of the Disney brand as a symbol of the United States…
The Day After… At The Studios
Of course, the world changed after Pearl Harbor. Work at the Disney brothers’ Studio was not immune to that shift in priorities.
The Studios completed Bambi but ceased production on other features.
But during the war, and at the behest of Uncle Sam, Disney production increased; “from an average of 3,000 feet of completed film per year to 300,000. The studio was operating six days a week, plus two nights of overtime” (according to The Walt Disney Family Museum, TWDFM).
“With the Disney studio lot in Burbank requisitioned as an Army anti-aircraft base after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Walt and his staff pledged to support the war effort without hesitation, devoting over 90% of their wartime output to producing training, propaganda, entertainment, and public-service films, while also designing an extensive collection of insignia and print media,” explained WaltDisney.org.
30 Films, 1400 Insignia
Contributing work at cost, Disney worked throughout the war.
Disney designed more than 1,400 insignia for military units, at an average cost of $25 each…
Walt said “Those kids grew up on Mickey Mouse, I owed it to ‘em.”
Walt [also] received calls from the Navy, the Army, the Department of Agriculture, and other government agencies to create training films and public service announcements.
Important Pieces From Disney Studios
During the war, 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.
Of course, the word for many of these works is propaganda. And while the Disney Company strove to do its part, it wasn’t without thought.
“[However] 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,” explained History.com.
“Additionally, after reading the 1942 best-seller ‘Victory Through Air Power’ by Major Alexander de Seversky, Walt… decided to adapt it as a 1943 live action-animated feature.
“Both President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill saw the film, which reportedly made an impression on them.”
Note: Also important to remember is that Walt, attempted to join the U.S. Army during WWI. Being deemed too young, he forged his birth certificate to join the Red Cross as an ambulance driver (but arrived in France after the armistice). Walt’s older brother Roy served in the United States Navy from 1917 to 1919.