Both of the readings discussed in class this week have had to do with how Disney treats history. Their tendency to only want to show the good parts of history along with their frequent conflicts with historians about their desire to do this are both chronicled in Mike Wallace’s essays. The question is, how does Disney treat contemporary events? We have read two different articles discussing their treatment of history but how did they handle things that would one day become history?
Years ago, I came across an image of Donald Duck as a Nazi. At the time, I thought that this was just some clever play on the fact that Walt Disney was an Anti-Semite and did not put any more thought into it. I had not really thought about it again until this week. I was researching Disney and trying to figure out what their response was during World War II when I came across Nazi Donald Duck again. This time I read into it and it turns out that this is from Der Fuehrer’s Face, an Oscar winning short made by Disney in 1943 that was used as propaganda (see below). Disney, even though its leader hated Jews, seemed to hate anything that was anti-Capitalist even more.
The short animated feature opens with an excerpt of a Wagner piece and then transitions into a performance of “Der Fuehrer’s Face” done by a German oom-pah band consisting of Goebbels, Himmler, Mussolini, Tojo, and Goering. They march onto Donald’s house and force him awake so he can eat his rations and then go to work screwing on the tops of artillery shells and saluting pictures of the Axis leaders. The machine speeds up to the point that Donald cannot keep up and he draws the ire of the Nazi leaders. He wakes up in his bed at the end and he realizes this has all been a nightmare. He is wearing American flag pants and he kisses the Statue of Liberty while he praises his home country.
This is propaganda at its finest. It provides caricatures of famous leaders of the opposition and everything, while truthful, is driven up to the extreme as to scare the viewer at home. By casting Donald Duck in the title role, Disney makes the audience connect emotionally as they watch one of their icons being forced to live under Nazi rule. The very pro-America image at the conclusion of this cartoon along with the tomato in the face of Hitler at the end drives home the pro-American point very well. Disney entered the propaganda game to protect their own interests and to show the American people that they supported what the boys overseas were doing. This seems like a PR move and a good one at that.