The media was once controlled by the government. During WWII, the Walt Disney Co. was under U.S. government contract for 32 short propaganda films at $4,500 each, which would save the studio after they spent four times their budget on Fantasia, which had pushed them close to bankruptcy. The films did their best to boost support for the war effort, increase military recruitment and morale, and counter Nazi propaganda.
Donald Duck starred in at least eight of these government-sponsored shorts and his popularity boomed. The most bizarre film was Der Fuehrer’s Face, based around the popular Spike Jones parody song “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” which reached #3 on the charts. In this film, Donald Duck is a Nazi. Yeah, you didn’t misread me; in this short, Donald Duck wears a Nazi uniform, does the “Heil Hitler” salute dozens of times, and helps build shells for the German Army. The point of the film is to show that “Nutzi Land” (Nazi Germany) is no Aryan paradise; it’s a totalitarian nightmare characterized by forced worship and dronish obedience to authority (hence Donald must give the “Heil” salute every time he sees a picture of the Führer (Adolf Hitler), harsh wartime rationing meaning little food, and grueling 48-hour work days on an assembly line no one can keep up with (think of Lucy and Ethel failing at packaging candy on a faster and faster conveyor belt). It’s also an actual nightmare that Donald wakes up from at the end. I totally get the purpose of this cartoon, and Disney gets the message across with some classic animation, but it’s still unsettling to see a Nazi Donald Duck heiling Hitler so much. It’s definitely jarring, especially completely outside the context of 1943 media.
Disclaimer: in the opening sequence, Japanese emperor Hirohito is playing a Sousaphone, and is depicted in an exaggeratedly ethnic and buffoonish way, typical of wartime cartoons, and today may be offensive.
More videos of Donald Duck’s WWII shorts:
- Donald Gets Drafted – (May 1, 1942).
- The Vanishing Private – (September 25, 1942).
- Sky Trooper – (November 8, 1942).
- Der Fuehrer’s Face – (January 1, 1943).
- Fall Out Fall In – (April 23, 1943).
- The Old Army Game – (November 5, 1943).
- Home Defense – (November 26, 1943).
- Commando Duck (racism warning) – (June 2, 1944).