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Posted on Oct 29, 2004 in Books and Movies

Walt Disney On The Front Lines – The War Years

By Karl Scott

After the release of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” the Walt Disney Studios found that it could count on a continuous stream of income by re-releasing the animated films it had produced every 7 years. A new generation was always on the way, creating a never-ending supply of new audience material and an ever-growing number of renewable cash cows. This practice continued until the VHS and DVD eras emerged to replace the box office income with an even larger source of funds.

This held true for every Disney animated film save one. “Victory Through Air Power” was a feature length animated film produced during the 2nd World War and hasn’t been seen since it’s initial release. Now on a new 2 DVD collection, the Walt Disney Studio released this rare feature and much, much more. The WDS was taken over by the military on 12/8/41. Instead of producing family films the studio began to crank out cartoons with Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Pluto and others in WWII propaganda shorts. The first DVD in the collection features 29 of these cartoons dealing with all kinds of homeland WWII material. From “Donald gets Drafted” and “Commando Duck” to the classic “Der Fuehrer’s Face” featuring Donald and the Spike Jones Band hit of the same name.


Donald Gets Drafted

Donald Gets Drafted

Many of these cartoons dealt with what would today be very politically incorrect versions of the Axis enemy. Some deal with daily life and show how to collect and save lard and recycle same. I have not put any of these ideas in practice but it always is good to be ready and to know how. Others deal with dietary concerns and cleanliness. Most are amazing to watch if even just once. For any collector of Disney or WWII films they are a must have and a must see. On disc 2 we find a collection of live action classified training films including “Four Methods of Flush Riveting” (I had no idea how it was done), ways to “Stop that Tank” and a montage of other military films produced by WDS for the War Department.

The major centerpiece of disc 2 and the collection itself is the above-mentioned “Victory Through Airpower”. The only part of this film seen since the 1940’s is a short sequence at the beginning of the film on the history of flight and the Wright Brothers. The majority of the film is based on the theories of Major Alexander de Seversky, who Walt believed in and produced the film to back up the Major’s ideas. In hindsight many of the Major’s proposals have shown to be outdated and impractical at the time. One crucial idea was to build large Aircraft capable of flying non-stop to Germany or Japan to drop bombs from the continental US.

Der Fuehrer

Der Fuehrer’s Face

The animation behind the theories and the maps and explanations by the Major are compelling and convincing even in those cases where we know now he was wrong. In those cases where he was right, the film is supportive and stunning in its visual imagery. The balance of the DVD includes a still gallery of art from the film, production stills, on the set information and conversations with people who were at the studios during production. The package also includes a well produced but short book of information on the DVD contents, a certificate of authenticity (in case you have any doubts about what you are buying) and a small poster reproduction of the Donald Duck cartoon “Fall out – Fall in”. Leonard Maltin provides interesting introductions on the two discs.

The DVD set is limited to a production run of a quarter million copies. Number 67,412 has been taken. I have no intentions of giving it up. You best get your own.