Home Front Friday: Disney Goes to War
Home Front Friday is a regular series that highlights the can do spirit on the Home Front during World War II and illustrates how that spirit is still alive today!
Yesterday was Donald Duck Day, in honor of one of Walt Disney’s most beloved characters, and a very special character for the Museum as well!
Did you know that Donald Duck starred in some of his very own propaganda cartoons during World War II? It’s true! Between 1942 and 1945, Walt Disney was hard at work making propaganda cartoons for the U.S. government. In fact, Disney made cartoons for every branch of the military! The government looked to him more than any other studio head to help build public morale. Over 90% of Disney employees were devoted to the production of training and propaganda films for the government.
Propaganda cartoons served a variety of different purposes. They were often used to boost morale on the home front and to encourage the public to support the war effort. Many beloved characters, including Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and Popeye set aside their entertainment shticks and instead urged audiences to band together and pool their resources to defeat the Axis. World War II really did call on every American to participate – even our cartoon characters!
Here are some of Donald Duck’s messages to the American public during the war:
- The New Spirit (1942). This cartoon was made to encourage Americans to pay their taxes promptly and fully so as to support the war effort. Donald, at first hesitant to fork over his money, eventually comes around and realizes how important his funds are to keeping the military stocked with ammo and weapons.
- The Spirit of ’43 (1943). This short is a sequel to 1942’s The New Spirit. After Donald receives his weekly salary, he is confronted by the classic Shoulder Angel and Shoulder Devil. The Good Duck urges him to save the money so he will be able to pay his taxes, while the Bad Duck tries to get him to blow it all immediately. It asks Americans, “Will you save for your taxes or spend for the Axis?”
- Der Führer’s Face (1943). Donald has a terrible nightmare in which he wakes up in Nutzi Land, where he is forced to work himself to exhaustion for the Führer! This cartoon is named after a popular Spike Jones song of the era, which appears in the short, as sung by ridiculous caricatures of Goebbels, Göring, Himmler, Tōjō, and Mussolini.
Posted by Katie Atkins, Education Intern and Lauren Handley, Assistant Director of Education for Public Programs at The National WWII Museum.