Disney: Education for Death

"Heil Hitler!" said the S.S. officer to a distraught mother caring for her gravely ill child.

"What makes a Nazi? How does he get that way? Well, let's look into the process..."

Education for Death: The Making of a Nazi is a Wartime Cartoon in the Classic Disney Shorts lineup, based on the Gregor Ziemer book of the same name and released on January 15, 1943. High production values aside, suffice it to say this is not your typical Disney cartoon — aside from some brief bits of comedy (particularly the retelling of Sleeping Beauty as an allegory of how Adolf Hitler "saved" Germany from democracy), this short was intended as a dead-serious message for American audiences, displaying just what destructive and terrifying methods the Nazis used to brainwash young Germans into becoming perfect soldiers for the Führer. Hence, the title.

The short is included on the DVD set "Walt Disney Treasures: On The Front Lines", uncut and uncensored and with a message from Leonard Maltin explaining the short and how horrific and chilling it truly is (sadly, you can't skip over it like with the Whoopi Goldberg warnings at the beginning of the Looney Tunes volume three Golden Collection DVD set).

This short provides examples of:

  • Adolf Hitlarious: Hitler is depicted as a medieval knight coming to wake up Germany. He is depicted as a complete angry fool and provides the only comic relief in the entire cartoon.
  • Berserk Button: The teacher gets really furious at Hans for answering a question incorrectly, yelling and screaming as he does so.
  • Book Burning: Near the end the Nazis burns all books, including - in a very dramatic moment - the Holy Bible.
  • Brawn Hilda: The "Sleeping Beauty" Germany, when awakened, proves to be a fat, beer-swilling Valkyrie à la Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung.
  • Celebrity Cameo: Hitler is depicted as a German knight. Later during the class room scene his portrait can be seen hanging on the wall, along with those of Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Göring.
  • Chest of Medals: Hermann Göring's portrait is depicted having so many medals, that they literally come out of the frame of the painting.
  • Cunning Like a Fox: Used by the Nazi teacher to demonstrate that the strong and cunning should naturally devour the weak and timid.
  • Darker and Edgier than the vast majority of Disney productions.
  • Documentary Of Lies: Some things presented as facts are often simplified or even blatantly wrong. Nazism is depicted as being based purely on "survival of the fittest", even taken to absurd lengths with German soldiers literally coming to Hans' parents house to complain about why their son is sick, because all Germans need to be "strong". The racial policies of Nazism are never mentioned or explained, presumably because most viewers at the time weren't above racism and antisemitism either. There is also something hypocritical about the fact that the Nazis are accused of brainwashing their people, while this cartoon is in fact also pure propaganda.
  • Downer Ending: It's implied that Hans dies in battle, along with his classmates.
  • Dunce Cap: Hans is forced to wear this when standing in the corner simply for showing sympathy for a rabbit, a weak creature, that gets eaten by a fox, a strong and cunning creature (see Felony Misdemeanor below).
  • Dystopia Is Hard: Meta-example. Hans grew from birth to adulthood in Nazi Germany, which didn't last long enough for that to occur.
  • Fan Disservice: The scene involving the aforementioned Sleeping Beauty Germany.
  • Felony Misdemeanor
    Narrator: He said "The poor rabbit." Has he lost his mind?
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom / Sinister Silhouettes: The Nazi officials.
  • Gratuitous German: It would be expected that the German language would be used in a movie about Nazis, but it's still surprising that it's not some gibberish like in many other propaganda cartoons of the time, but actual correct German.
  • Laser-Guided Tykebomb: Hans and company are raised to become mindless, arrogant killing machines for the Nazi state.
  • Marshmallow Hell: Hitler receives this from Princess Germany in the "Sleeping Beauty" segment.
  • Mood Whiplash: The comedic "Sleeping Beauty" / Ring of the Nibelung parody contrasts violently with the rest of the short. The short in general goes back and forth between dark moments and lighthearted ones. It starts out with showing a couple registering their child with the government in what looks like a big dark room; not exactly pleasant, but nothing edgy. Then it gets more lighthearted with the "Sleeping Beauty" bit. Then it shows a mother trying to take care of her ill child, and then a government official stepping in and warning her to stop coddling Hans or he'll be taken away by the state. Then it gets softer again, with an example of a classroom lesson where the kids are being taught that the future belongs to the strong and brutal. After that is when it starts getting really dark.
  • Nazi Germany: The cartoon takes place there.
  • Parody: The "Sleeping Beauty" segment is actually a parody of Wagner's Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), where Siegfried (cited by German propaganda as a national hero) wakes the Valkyrie Brünnhilde from her magic sleep, "Sleeping Beauty" style. Hitler was on record as an admirer of Wagner.
  • Poirot Speak: Actually averted for the most part; the written and spoken German in segments with Hans is entirely accurate. Played straight, however, in the Sleeping Beauty segment where Prince Adolf's speech to the newly wakened Princess Germany is garbled nonsense.
  • Propaganda Machine: This is a propaganda cartoon.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: The characters all speak in German with no subtitles, though the English-speaking narrator still provides context and it's fairly easy to understand what's going on.
  • Regional Riff: When the chalkboard rabbit is hunted by the fox, the tune playing is Im Wald und auf der Heide, an old German hunting tune.
  • Rotoscoping: Presumably used to animate the human characters.
  • Rousseau Was Right: Hans actually used to be a pretty sweet and concerned kid. That is, until his teachers beat any sense of morality out of him.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: The actual "Sleeping Beauty" has a wicked fairy, but no witch proper. Also, she never guarded the Sleeping Beauty.
  • Shown Their Work: The makers present the cartoon as an actual documentary, including having characters speak actual German to provide authenticity.
  • Show, Don't Tell: Cleverly handled in the scene where the official consults a list of banned names to make sure Hans is an appropriate name for the baby. We are shown the list but not told why these names are banned. All one needs to do is read some of the legible names: Issac, Simon, Miriam, Benjamin, Joseph, and you will get the idea.
  • Something Completely Different: Compared to other Disney shorts, this one really stands out — it's probably to Disney what Chuck Jones' "Old Glory" was to Looney Tunes, in that it's doesn't have any wacky cartoon hijinx and touches on serious subject matter.
  • Spooky Painting: After Hans gives the wrong answer the teacher says: "What would Herr Hitler say? Or Herr Göring? Or Herr Goebbels?" Whereupon the camera cuts to the paintings in the class room who know all suddenly look angrily at Hans. This could be the boy's own imagination, though.
  • Standard Snippet: Besides Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries", reference is also made to his wedding march from Lohengrin. When the Nazis are shown burning Felix Mendelssohn's music, we hear a snippet of his wedding march from Ein Sommernachtstraum.
  • Time Marches On: The cartoon is obviously a product of its time. Not only in its subject matter, but also in a lot of statements it makes that are actually wrong or simplified, just to appeal more to a white Christian audience. For instance, no mention is made of antisemitism and a dramatic shocking moment is the scene where the Bible is also thrown on the fire during the book burnings, something the Nazis never did.
  • Title Drop: At the very end: "For now his education is complete. His education... for death."
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Hans. Because of his indoctrination during his upbringing and education, he becomes an obedient servant of the state and hateful of anything he considers weak and inferior. He's implied to subsequently die in battle.
  • User Operation Prohibit Flag: The DVD version's Maltin intro is unskippable and can't be fast-forwarded through.
  • Virtue Is Weakness: Hans' teacher is horrified when he expresses sympathy for the weak rabbit killed by the strong, cunning fox. Instead he claims that the fox is to be admired and the rabbit hated because according to the Nazis, Might Makes Right. After being the class fool for a day, Hans becomes a fanatic who screams that he wishes the rabbit would die.
  • Wartime Cartoon: The most serious of them all.
  • Wicked Witch: How the Nazi version of "Sleeping Beauty" depicts Democracy.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Hans, and pretty much all the children of Nazi Germany.

Alternative Title(s):

Education For Death