Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Donald Duck the Nazi...

Last night I watched part of the just released Disney DVD of On the Front Lines, which is 32 short cartoon subjects made by Disney in the early 1940’s for the war effort. Included in this is the controversial Der Fuehrer's Face in which Donald plays an overworked and frazzled Nazi.

While the short cartoon sets out to lampoon Hitler and the Nazi's it is so jammed packed with swastikas, 'Heil Hitlers' and Nazi-related stuff that it darn near undermines it's anti-Nazi massage. Plus, Donald – being a lovable duck – in such a role could likely have kids running around the house saluting Der Fuehrer.

Even though the whole thing ends up being just a bad dream seen today it's easy to see why it is (and was) controversial. Plus, even though Donald is shown in the end dressed up in an American flag costume kissing a miniature Statue of Liberty the actual final shot in the film is Nazi related.

I showed my Serbian roommate the short and told him I can understand why some would be offended. But he shrugged and said that he didn't see why anyone would find the cartoon offensive since it is made up of mere cartoon images and that there is nothing affirmative about cartoon images. I agreed that a thinking adult could come to that conclusion but that Nazi images do have a meaning and an association with horrible acts many would rather not think about.

I think it is important that this cartoon be available for all to see and it's good to see Disney release it but I would still file it under subversive art. The short is prefaced by an introduction with Leonard Maltin who tells us everything will be okay.

DVD File has an interview with Disney animator Dave Bossert who helped get the controversial ones put on the DVD.

Included on the DVD is the pro tax short The Spirit of '43 . It's actually pretty amazing to watch a mainstream cartoon - again with Donald Duck - push the value of paying taxes for the war effort, which at the time was something people were not used to paying.

The DVD has much more and is worth a look to see what Disney was putting out in the 1940's. These cartoons were made to get people to rally around a cause - in some cases to instruct people what to do and how to think about the war. Partly because we now live in a politically correct world (for instance, Commando Duck with it's anti-Japanese stance could not be shown today) and partly because a major corporation like Disney likes to stay above the fray I just don't think they would touch the political subjects today; or at least not in such an overt way.