Walt Disney (1943)
Disney was now fully committed to the war and contributed by producing propaganda shorts and a feature film entitled Victory Through Air Power. Victory Through Air Power did poor box office and the studio lost around $500,000 as a result. The required propaganda cartoon shorts were also not as popular as Disney’s regular shorts, and by the time the Army ended its stay at Disney Studios when the war ended in 1945, Disney struggled to restart his studio, and had a low amount of cash on hand.
Victory Through Air Power is a 1943 American Technicolor animated documentary feature film produced by Walt Disney Productions and released by United Artists on July 17, 1943. It is based on the 1942 book Victory Through Air Power by Alexander P. de Seversky. De Seversky appeared in the film, an unusual departure from the Disney animated feature films of the time.
Edward H. Plumb, Paul J. Smith and Oliver Wallace were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.
Popular filmmaker Walt Disney read Victory through Air Power and felt that its message was so important that he personally financed the animated production of the book. The film was primarily created to express Seversky’s theories to government officials and the public. Movie critic Richard Schickel says that Disney “pushed the film out in a hurry, even setting aside his distrust of limited animation under the impulses of urgency.” (The only obvious use of limited animation, however, is in diagrammatic illustrations of Seversky’s talking points. These illustrations featured continuous flowing streams of iconic aircraft, forming bridges or shields, and munitions flowing along assembly lines.) It was not until 1945 Disney was able to pay off his $1.2 million war film deficit. After Disney’s main distributor at the time RKO Radio Pictures refused to release the film in theaters, Walt decided to have United Artists (the distributor of many of his shorts between 1932 and 1937) release it instead, making it the first and only Disney animated feature to be released by a different movie studio.
On December 8, 1941, Disney studios were essentially converted into a propaganda machine for the United States government. While most World War II films were created for training purposes, films such as Victory Through Air Power were created to catch the attention of government officials and to build public morale among the U.S. and Allied powers. Among the notables who decided after seeing the film that Seversky and Disney knew what they were talking about were Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The Disney studio sent a print for them to view when they were attending the Quebec Conference. According to Leonard Maltin, “it changed FDR’s way of thinking—he agreed that Seversky was right.” Maltin also adds that “it was only after Roosevelt saw ‘Victory Through Air Power’ that our country made the commitment to long-range bombing.” (These quotes by Mr. Maltin may be inaccurate or merely intended as hyperbole suitable to an introduction to a re-release of a film as the decision regarding long-range bombing had previously been taken and the Allied Combined Bomber Offensive had already begun on June 10, 1943, two months before Roosevelt saw the movie.) Roosevelt recognized that film was an effective way to teach and Disney could provide Washington with high quality information. The American people were becoming united and Disney was able to inform them of the situation without presenting excessive chaos, as cartoons often do. The animation was popular among soldiers and was superior to other documentary films and written instructions at the time.
The film played a significant role for the Disney Corporation because it was the true beginning of educational films. The educational films would be, and still are, continually produced and used for the military, schools, and factory instruction. The company learned how to effectively communicate their ideas and efficiently produce the films while introducing the Disney characters to millions of people worldwide. Throughout the rest of the war, Disney characters effectively acted as ambassadors to the world. In addition to Victory Through Air Power, Disney produced Donald Gets Drafted, Education for Death, Der Fuehrer’s Face, and various training films for the military, reusing animation from Victory Through Air Power in some of them.
One scene showed a fictional rocket bomb destroying a fortified German submarine pen. According to anecdote, this directly inspired the British to develop a real rocket bomb to attack targets that were heavily protected with thick concrete. Due to its origin, the weapon became known as the Disney bomb, and saw limited use before the war ended. In retrospect, some of Seversky’s proposals were derided as impractical such as operating a major long range air bombardment campaign from the Aleutians, a series of islands reaching westward from Alaska which is a remote area with a climate that makes for dangerous flying conditions.