"'SUPERMAN SAYS: YOU CAN SLAP A JAP' might be the most famous racist comic panel of all time. It's included in nearly every discussion of WWII propaganda and is found on Mel Gibson's computer in the folder 'Tattoo Ideas.' But to Superman's credit, he was probably trying to stop that printing press. Superman
never talked like that. I mean, you don't call someone racist when he owns a coffin that can make his girlfriend black."
The term wartime cartoon
refers primarily to cartoons made or released in The Golden Age of Animation
during World War II
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Typical trademarks of these cartoons that are usually spoofed: propaganda elements, racist caricatures, outdated references to the war effort (i.e., Shout Outs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's Donald 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! / Not to love der Fuehrer ist a great disgrace / So 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. (Of course, that the Japanese snipers appear to have attended the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy helped, too.)
- 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.
- It maybe even Inverted for some cartoons. Donald Gets Drafted, for example, actually made to satirized how the real condition of war compared to the glamorized propaganda by mocking the Drill training and the military recruitment.
- 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.
- "Ration for the Duration" opens with Popeye and his nephews planting a victory garden.
- "Her Honor, the Mare" (the first regular short in color) opens with a horse being rejected by a glue factory and has 4-F stamped on his rear end.
Tom & Jerry
- 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.
- There was also "Bear Raid Warden", which depicts him as an overzealous air-raid warden determined to keep all lights off at night.
- "Inner Tube Antics" has a donkey dealing with a leaky inner tube buried in his yard that tends to snicker as its air leaks. The donkey keeps trying to yank it out of the ground for the neighborhood rubber drive, resulting in his uncovering a huge pile of tires and rubber tubes.
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.
- Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B
- $21 A Day (Once A Month)
- Andy Panda's Victory Garden
- 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.
- In Little Orphan Annie, Daddy Warbucks became a general and Annie, at one point, blew up a Nazi sub. She also led the war effort on the home front with her "Junior Commandos", which were imitated in real life.
- If you count comics as cartoons the British Anthology Comic The 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:
- North Korean animation follows this Trope, only in the modern day and the enemy is the United States. Propaganda surely knows no country.
- The Armenian-made Kill Dim cartoons are a modern example pertaining to the Nagorno-Karabakh War (caution: they're likely to offend you if you're from Azerbaijan).