The term wartime cartoon refers primarily to cartoons made or released during World War II, during The Golden Age of Animation, and having some specific reference to the war effort. Many wartimes are explicit propaganda, while others make humorous jabs at conditions on the home front such as the rationing of fuels, materials and consumer goods, and even meat. While some wartimes have remained popular as period pieces, many of these are now considered controversial due to the caricatural depictions of Germans and (especially) Japanese (see Those Wacky Nazis and Yellow Peril).
Typical trademarks of these cartoons that are usually spoofed: propaganda elements, racist caricatures, outdated references to the war effort (i.e., Shout Outs to save scrap iron, buy war bonds, or grow a Victory Garden), Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and/or Emperor Hirohito often make a cameo,...
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Possibly the ultimate classic example would be Disney'sDonald Duck in Nutzi Land, in which Donald dreams he's a factory worker in a surreal, nightmarish version of Nazi Germany. This cartoon was the source of the song "Der Fuehrer's Face" (which the short was later renamed after), famously recorded by Spike Jones and his City Slickers:
"Vhen der Fuehrer says, 'Ve ist der master race', / Ve heil! (raspberry) Heil! (raspberry) / Right in der Fuehrer's face!..."
Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series included an alternate version of "Der Fuehrer's Face" directed at the Fleetlord of the alien invasion.
Disney had an entire series of shorts devoted to the war effort beginning with Donald Gets Drafted, along with the feature-length animated documentary Victory Through Air Power (said to have inspired the "Disney bomb" bunker buster).
One of them, Commando Duck, dealt with Donald taking out the Japanese air force; he accidentally does so by flooding it.
Subverted, because some of the Donald Duck soldier cartoons were not direct propaganda and had a "Beetle Bailey" sense of humor to them. These cartoons tended to show Pete as Donald's commanding officer.
Wouldn't it have been more logical for Donald to be in the Navy, or at least the Marines?
Since his dream was to fly (he's a bird, remember), perhaps the Air Force?
Since the U.S. didn't have a separate Air Force at the time, it makes sense that Donald was in the Army, hoping to get assigned to the Army Air Forces, which he actually does in one short.
In addition, Donald was the star for an major propaganda film called The New Spirit which encouraged Americans to pay their income tax promptly, followed by the sequel The Spirit of '43. (No sequel was needed in '44, because by then Federal Income Tax Withholding had been introduced.) Reportedly, many more Americans did their civic duty because of these films.
Similarly to the Bugs Bunny example below, these cartoons actually got recognized by the real-life United States Military; on his 50th birthday, Donald Duck was officially promoted to the rank of Buck Sergeant in the army and given an honorable discharge.
A more subtle version occurs in Chicken Little (not the movie) which had Foxy Loxy using Hitler's tactics to break apart a farm community to eat them all. The short has no obvious Nazi imagery (though the original pitch involved Foxy reading Mein Kampf instead of a psychology book), but the message was clear.
The short Reason and Emotion starts as a simple visualization of the struggle between the mind's reasonable and emotional sides before delving into how Hitler manipulates his country's emotions to remove all reason. The propaganda aspects were removed and re-edited on later broadcasts, like on Disney's TV series The Wonderful World of Disney to have a new ending about balancing both sides.
A particularly disturbing example is 1943's Education for Death. It follows the life of a German boy called Hans from birth (where his parents prove to a judge they're of Aryan pedigree), through being told distorted fairy tales glorifying Hitler as a toddler, being taught to hate a bunny being eaten by a fox (since "the strong shall rule the weak"), participating in book-burning, and after the next few years spent "marching and heiling, heiling and marching" he, now in his teens, has become a "good Nazi" who says, thinks, and does only what he's told to. In the end, he and others march off to war, their figures fading into rows of graves. It's up to the audience if the dramatic depiction, or the fact that Real Life Nazism operated similarly, is more chilling. All things considered, it did show that not all Germans accepted National Socialism of free will, but rather were forced and indoctrinated into it from a young age. It further portrays Hans' mother to be deeply afraid of it all.
Rubber rationing is referenced in the Donald Duck cartoon "Donald's Tire Trouble", which shows that the tires on Don's car are patched with stray pieces of rubber, including a glove, a hot water bottle and a toilet plunger.
The Goofy cartoon "Victory Vehicles" references gas rationing and rubber shortages, with citizens looking for replacements for the automobile, eventually settling on the pogo stick. Cut from TV showings is a scene featuring a billboard exhorting people to "Beat the Jap with scrap" and a line of narration about how surplus cement for roads could be dropped on Tokyo and Berlin.
Another Goofy cartoon, "How to Be a Sailor", was pretty straightforward but then went on a war theme in the final scene with Goofy in the Navy. In true Goofy style, he ends up launching himself from a torpedo tube at various Japanese battleships, all with very Japanese caricatured faces on the bows and each with a rendition of the Japanese battle flag, all of which the torpedoing Goofy manages to blow up and sink as the cartoon ends. At the same time, for good measure, Goofy, still torpedoing, also shatters the Japanese rising sun like a window. (Needless to say, this scene was cut from most TV broadcasts.)
Disney's first wartime cartoons were actually made before the US joined the war: four public service announcements for the National Film Board of Canada, making use of reused footage from Disney cartoons of the past. They are: All Together, Seven Wise Dwarfs, The Thrifty Pig, and Donald's Decision.
Disney also made Industrial training and technical films like Four Methods of Flush Rivetting for Lockheed Aircraft Co.
Disney also maintained a five man staff solely to create insignia for every US or Allied unit that requested one. Units as diverse as the Flying Tigers, HMS Illustrious, and the Free French Pilots of the RAF all received Disney insignia, as did about half of the submarines of the US Pacific Fleet. Pugnacious Donald Duck, Disney's "designated draftee" showed up most often, appearing in 216 insignia. Mickey, by contrast, served mainly on the home front.
Similarly, Famous Studios did four war-themed Superman shorts — the rather racist "Japoteurs" (rarely included in compilations), the somewhat less offensive "The Eleventh Hour", and two where Superman battled the Nazis.
Bizarrely, it was one of the Nazi battles that featured the most dehumanizing racial caricatures in any of these shorts, the target here of course being...blacks. In "Jungle Drums", a couple of Nazis have tricked the superstitious natives of Darkest Africa into doing their bidding. In their capacity as gods/high priests/whatever, the Nazis wear Klan-like outfits, presumably to emphasize their bad-guy racism. The effect is rather spoiled by the fact that the "natives" are portrayed as positively demonic, inhuman forces of mindless menace, obviously played more for fear/loathing than the ostensible "villains", a couple of insipidly mean-spirited Germans.
Popeye has two rather egregious examples — You're a Sap Mr. Jap and Scrap the Japs, in which Popeye battles the Japanese Navy (both are available on the Volume 3 DVD). Mr. Jap is profoundly disturbing, as not only does it have the expected caricatures of Japanese people (buck teeth, glasses, wooden sandals, saying "so solly" a lot, being sneaky, manufacturing cheap products, etc.), but the last minute depicts a Japanese soldier mourning the Navy's impending loss to Popeye, drinking gasoline, eating firecrackers, lighting a match, and then wrapping his body around Popeye's. Popeye looks down the soldier's throat, realizes he's about to explode, and abandons ship. It's all done in a strangely non-slapstick manner.
Popeye also fought the Nazis in Spinach For Britain and Seeing Red, White, and Blue along with four Japanese soldiers.
Another cartoon, " A Jolly Good Furlough," had a brief rationing gag in which Olive Oyl's car was shown to have old shoes mounted on the wheels instead of tires.
The Popeye short "Rocket to Mars", released the year after the war was over, had Popeye battle an impending martian invasion. On the way to Mars he passes a planet shaped like an eight-ball, with Emperor Hirohito behind it.
At MGM, Tex Avery made a cartoon called Blitz Wolf involving the three little pigs as soldiers and the big bad wolf as Hitler. The same man played the "smart little pig" both here and in Disney's "Three Little Pigs" short.
Of especially hilarious note is the disclaimer given at the beginning, which states that the wolf's depiction is non-fictitious and purely intentional...while the tires depicted in it are, in fact, completely bogus.
And we ain't kiddin' brother!
The smart little pig's brick house has a "No Dogs Allowed" sign with the word "dogs" crossed out and substituted for the word "Japs."
Fred Quimby reportedly ordered Tex Avery to never make another short like Blitz Wolf during the duration, because there was no way to know who was going to win the war. This also might explain the conspicuous lack of MGM wartime cartoons, at least compared to other studios.
Tex Avery was fond of using meat rationing as a theme in otherwise non-war-related cartoons — Jerky Turkey, Big Heel-Watha, and What's Buzzin', Buzzard?
Tex also took a jab at the draft in the 1944 MGM cartoon "Batty Baseball". One early scene shows most of the baseball players are missing—called up because they're 1A. Besides the catcher, the only other player present is the pitcher—a 4F draft reject.
Tom & Jerry
"The Yankee Doodle Mouse" was the closest Tom And Jerry ever came to having a World War II-themed short. In it, Tom and Jerry fight a war-style battle in a basement with plenty of WWII references.
Two of the MGM Oneshot Cartoons are explicit wartime cartoons: "War Dogs" and "The Stork's Holiday". "Innertube Antics" plot is also a nod to the strict rationing of rubber during the war years.
Barney Bear had at least two wartime shorts; "The Rookie Bear", where he is drafted into the army, and "Barney Bear's Victory Garden" which has Barney prepare a victory garden. One gag had him get the soil ready by making a huge portrait of Hitler so that it gets bombed by passing B-19s. Another scene depicts Mussolini as an eggplant.
Lots of Looney Tunes cartoons from that era had subtle jokes in them reflecting home-front conditions, even ones that don't overtly address the war. Gas rationing "A" cards were common, as were jokes about scrap metal collections, victory gardens, civil defense drills (someone yelling "Put out that light!"), and general shortages of rubber, butter and meat. Some of the gags ever persisted well after the end of WWII itself.
In one Elmer Fudd cartoon, a tiny flea carries with him a set of ration stamps, and diligently tears them off before biting into Elmer's pet dog. Said flea also takes refuge in a "Hair Raid Shelter".
The 1943 Bugs Bunny cartoon Falling Hare, in which Bugs battles a gremlin which is seeking to sabotage the war effort, culminating in an imminent plane crash which halts inches above the ground because the plane — due to having a low-priority gas ration sticker — has run out of fuel.
In 1942's A Tale of Two Kitties: A pair of cats try to get at Tweety (this being one of his earliest shorts, he isn't named yet) in his nest. In their final attempt, one puts on a crude pair of wooden wings and tries to fly up to the nest. Tweety puts on an "Air Raid Warden" helmet and calls in a sighting of an "unidentified object". Spotlights immediately light up the sky and anti-aircraft guns shoot the cat down.
Little Red Riding Rabbit is a wartime retelling of the classic nursery story in which Grandma never appears, because she's off working the swing shift at Lockheed.
Daffy The Commando had him bamboozling a pair of Nazi soldiers, and culminated in Daffy hitting Hitler over the head with a mallet, upon which Der Fuhrer gave an indignant shout of "SCHULTZ!"
Characters that fall down or take a long slide often will use the phrase "Was that/Is this trip really necessary?", a common slogan used to encourage people not to take unnecessary trips to free up gas and rubber for the war effort and to free up space on trains to ferry troops to their duty locations. Daffy uses it when he's dropped down a trap door in The Great Piggy Bank Robbery. In "Baseball Bugs", after calmly tagging out a runner who had been running the bases, Bugs holds up a sign with the same message. Another cartoon ended with Bugs Bunny escaping on a train but suddenly realizing that "None of us civilians should be doing any unnecessary traveling these days" before jumping off and walking towards the sunset.
Another instance of this happened in "Nasty Quacks," when Daffy packs up and leaves a man's house, then comes back to tell him that the government doesn't want anyone to do any non-essential traveling — the war had ended by the time the short was released, but rationing of some items and commodities was still in effect until the economy could switch over from a wartime footing to a peacetine footing again.
Similarly, in Wagon Heels, the wagon train Porky Pig is scouting for passes a billboard that asks "Is this trip REALLY necessary?"
The Bugs Bunny cartoon Super-Rabbit (a parody of the Fleischer Superman cartoons) ends with Bugs going into a phonebooth and changing into "a real superman" — a Marine. He then promptly marches off to war. The actual United States Marines were so flattered by this that they actually made Bugs a Marine. He was eventually promoted to Master Sergeant.
Scrap Happy Daffy had him protecting a huge scrap metal heap from the Germans, who attacked with a submarine firing a torpedo with a Nazi goat inside it. And then Daffy is inspired by patriotic visions ("Americans don't give up!") to become a "Super American" (duck) and thrash the Nazi saboteurs.
One example that seems quite edgy in retrospect — Draftee Daffy has fair-weather patriot Daffy Duck dodging "the little man from the draft board", who it turns out will literally follow him to Hell to serve the notice. Related to the above, at one point Daffy tries to escape by buying a plane ticket only to be met with "Is this trip REALLY necessary?"
Though made primarily to teach military men how not to act like complete idiots when on leave, Private Snafu should be listed here as an example of a war-toon made for the military. It was produced by Warner Brothers, and the earlier toons were written by Dr. Seuss (the dialogue in some is of the silly-rhyming style he'd later use in his children's books). Chuck Jones directed a bunch of them, this was his and Seuss' collaboration before How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Unlike the Looney Tunes cartoons made for general audiences, the Private Snafu cartoons made for the military included a lot more risque gags, mostly involving women in various stages of undress (mostly bras, panties, and stockings, but there were times where the women shown were topless) and uses of the words, "hell" and "damn" (which, back then were considered shocking).
Aside from what not to do when on leave, one cartoon shows why you should use mosquito netting when posted in the tropics. Another, why having your mail censored is a necessary frustration.
Famously, a Private Snafu cartoon late in the war about the importance of not blabbering too much about military matters when on leave was later pulled when the joke (Snafu telling his date all about a secret new bomb that could level an island) came a little too close to describing the then-underway Manhattan Project.
One Merrie Melodies cartoon, "Foney Fables", poked fun at rationing with a parody of "Old Mother Hubbard" — she goes to fetch her poor dog a bone and opens one door of her cupboard to show that nothing's in it...but the dog opens the other door to reveal a huge cache of food, then turns her in for hoarding. Another gag has a goose that usually lays golden eggs contributing to a scrap metal pile by laying aluminum ones instead. Yet another parodies "The Grasshopper and The Ant" with the ant chiding the grasshopper's laziness until the grasshopper reveals he's done his part as well by buying War Bonds.
The Looney Tunes short The Ducktators involved duck versions of Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito attempting to take over a barnyard. Unlike most of the cartoons on this list, this short has been shown on public domain video and during the early days of television (with the "Buy War Bonds" ending removed). Cartoon Network's animation history show, ToonHeads and the last volume of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD did manage to show The Ducktators with the original ending intact.
Friz Freleng's Fifth Column Mouse (1943) was an allegorical tale of the start of World War II. A cat (Hitler) convinces one of the mice (Neville Chamberlain) that he will not eat them if they treat him as their master. After the cat turns on them, they build a robot dog which chases him out of the house.
Frank Tashlin's Brother Brat, centered around Porky Pig babysitting a surly, violent infant while his mother is at work in a defense plant and opens with a stirring vignette saluting women working such roles. Tashlin's cinematic style is shown to great effect. Has aired on television a few times (mostly on the Ted Turner-owned networks like TBS and Cartoon Network), with the ending of baby Percy imitating Winston Churchill removed (probably because the censors balked at the image of a baby holding a cigar, yet the mother asking Porky, "You want those Nazis and Japs bombed off the Earth, don't ya?!" was not edited at all).
The Fighting 69th 1/2, released in early 1941, featured a battle between red ants and black ants that was an allegory of World War One.
There were also several rather controversial shorts produced that you'll rarely — if ever — see on television. Two notable examples are Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips (where Bugs encounters stereotyped Japanese soldiers on a Pacific island) and Norm McCabe's Tokio Jokio (a mockumentary of the Japanese and their everyday lives, with most gags resulting in them getting killed by everyone and everything they come across.) Though it did include such lame visual puns as the "Imperial Plane Spotter", who went around painting polka dots on airplanes, and a rather darkly ironic joke about the fire prevention headquarters being burned to the ground.
The banned 1943 short Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs gets a special double-mention. Not only do the racist stereotypes make showing it unlikely, but there's plenty of other wartime gags included. A group of killers named "Murder Inc." advertise that they will rub out anybody for $1.00, midgets are half-price, and Japs are free. When the evil queen is introduced, we see she's a hoarder of sugar, coffee, and tires (all of which were rationed during World War II), the prince's fancy roadster has wheels cobbled from old shoes in lieu of tires, and the heroic dwarfs are in the Army.
Interestingly, the only cartoon that actually featured Bugs Bunny directly in the Army didn't debut until after WWII — 1952's Forward March Hare wherein Bugs mistakenly gets a conscription letter meant for his neighbor.
Similarly, in One Meat Brawl, a groundhog emerges from his hole on Groundhog Day and is immediately fired on by a pack of hunters. Retreating to safety, he blames it on "meat shortages". The cartoon debuted post-WWII (1947), but rationing was sill fresh enough in the public mind to be played as a gag.
Frank Tashlin's Plane Daffy stars the duck in a squadron of carrier pigeons. As the resident woman-hater, he's sent out to deliver an important message without being seduced by Nazi spy Hatta Mari, who's managed to claim 28 of the previous pigeons.
This one has quite possibly the funniest gag of all WB's WWII cartoons (censored in some of the later broadcasts for reasons you'll see below):
(Daffy, despite swallowing the secret to protect it, is trapped by Hatta Mari in an X-Ray device)
Hatta:(saluting Hitler, Goering, and Goebbels watching from a remote screen) Look, mein Fuhrer! An important military secret!
Hitler: Ach! Das is goot!
(the X-ray shows a note in Daffy's stomach reading "Hitler is a Stinker")
Hitler: HITLER IS A SCHTINKER?! Dot's no military secret!
Ration Bored: The whole plot is based on Woody stealing gas due to the wartime rationing of it. The title is even a pun on the "Ration Board".
Woody Dines Out: Makes a couple of nods of the wartime conditions.
Take Heed, Mr. Tojo: An outsourced short for Warner Bros. Seaman Hook series, directed by Shamus Culhane.
The Enemy Bacteria: A military instructional film made by Lantz's studio.
The Barber of Seville: Woody is interested in a V-shaped "victory cut" hairdo. But the barber was drafted.
Screen Gems made several wartime shorts, most notably "Song of Victory", which features an allegory of how World War 2 started.
Momotarou's Divine Sea Warriors is a Japanese animated film from the war period, featuring cute characters based on Japanese mythology invading East Asia and killing Allies — proving that both sides played this game.
Though (allegedly) not cartoons, several The Three Stooges shorts had wartime themes, the most cringe-worthy of which (The Yolk's on Me) used actual Japanese-American internees bused from a "relocation center" (aka internment camp) to play the "bad guys". Though rarely seen today, it was still in the TV rotation as late as the early 1970s.
On the funny pages, Dick Tracy battled Pruneface, spy for the Nazis and manufacturer of nerve gas.
If you count comics as cartoons the BritishAnthology ComicThe Beano and The Dandy had obvious wartime propaganda issues with good examples being the strips Musso the Wop from The Beano and Addie and Hermy in The Dandy. Also there weren't just comic strips mocking the axis leadership - characters which had existed before the war such as Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty and Pansy Potter occasionally fought the Nazis during the war.
The bad guys did this too. See Nimbus Libere, a Nazi cartoon produced for Vichy France, in which French civilians are killed by an Allied bombing raid. What makes the cartoon really weird is that the bomber pilots are Western cartoon heroes—Popeye, Mickey Mouse, etc.
Modern-day homages and parodies:
Itchy & Scratchy did a wartime cartoon where they team up (briefly) to kill Hitler. After chopping Hitler's head off, Itchy does the same to Scratchy. On top of that, FDR runs in and kicks both Hitler and Scratchy in the butt while Itchy holds a sign, "Save Scrap Iron".
An "X-Presidents" cartoon on Saturday Night Live parodied these, as the titular former president superheroes tried to get Spongebob Squarepants to make a cartoon supporting the war in Iraq. Spongebob wasn't interested, and things turned ugly.
South Park paid homage to wartime cartoons in "Osama bin Laden Has Farty Pants", where Cartman bamboozles Osama bin Laden a la Bugs Bunny while the other boys escape from the terrorist leader's lair.
Another episode features Cartman asking Santa Claus to bring Christmas to Iraq and they end up shooting him down and kidnapping him, so it's up to the boys and Jesus to rescue him. The ending features Jesus and Santa blowing away many terrorists with machine guns, but Jesus ends up sacrificing himself so they can escape and to save time Santa turns the terrorist's weapons into toys and candy so they can't shoot them down.
Part 1 of "Imaginationland" features terrorists invading Imaginationland and killing many fictional characters. They use a rocket character to release the evil characters, getting killed themselves in the process.
"I'm a Little Bit Country", which looks at protest over the war in Iraq. Turns out the answer is to go to war and then protest against it.
Family Guy has Osama Bin Laden making a fool of himself while trying to record a death threat. Stewie eventually shows up and kicks his ass, before blowing up his cave and escaping back to Quahog. The whole thing doubles as a send-up of the openings to the The Naked Gun movies.
Another memorable bit has a suicide bomber asking his handlers what he's going to do afterwards, and their (failed) attempts to explain the concept to him.
The pre-9/11 episode "Road to Rhode Island" has Stewie distracting the guards at an airport security check by singing and dancing so that his bag (full of weapons) goes through the x-ray undetected. Upon picking it up, he says "Let's hope Osama Bin Laden doesn't know showtunes!" As he walks away, Osama shows up using the same technique. The Osama scene is cut from the later airings and the Volume 1 DVD, but is intact on the "Freakin' Sweet Collection" DVD.
Animaniacs did a short with the Warner Siblings that would have fit right in with the actual shorts above, which focused on recycling for the war effort. With all the zany gags that implies.
There was also a short with Rita and Runt that takes place during the Nazi invasion of Poland, where Rita and Runt keep the Nazi's dog, Schnappsi (who happens to be Newt from the Minerva Mink shorts), and the Nazis themselves, from finding a Polish girl and her father and taking them to a concentration camp.
A Goodfeathers episode, "Dough Dough Boys," has Bobby, Pesto, and Squit as messenger pigeons during WWI.
Freedom Force 2, being a big tribute to comics of the era, naturally has this in spades.
City of Heroes likewise has quite a few tributes. Much of the backstory involves the major heroes and villains fighting in WWII, and the trailer includes a hero throwing a Nazi tank. The game even has a Nazi villain group, the 5th Column, which players can fight against.
Epic Mickey, while not being an homage per se, draws quite a bit of its imagery from this kind of cartoons. And by "a bit", we mean an entire race of NPCs.
A chilling moment from the movie The Rocketeer had Howard Hughes show Cliff Secord a Nazi propaganda cartoon showing squadrons of jetpack-wearing Nazis as the vanguard of an invasion force against America. Especially chilling considering that the movie was a Disney Studios production!