"'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Typical trademarks of these cartoons that are usually spoofed: propaganda elements, racist caricatures, outdated references to the war effort (i.e., Shout Outs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.
- In "An Itch In Time" features a tiny flea pestering Elmer Fudd's pet dog. Released at the height of the war in 1943, it is predictably rife with food rationing jokes. The flea carries a tiny set of ration stamps, and diligently tears them off before biting, and at the end of the cartoon, he carries both Elmer and the dog away on a plate marked "Blue Plate Special, no points" while singing "No more meatless Tuesdays for me!" 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. One of the cats is also briefly seen tending to a Victory Garden, while the other has a blink-and-miss-it gag where he's wearing a British-style army helmet and smoking a cigar, an obvious Shout-Out to Winston Churchill.
- 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.
- Friz Freleng's Herr Meets Hare, in which Bugs leads Herman Goering through a Humiliation Conga. Notable for being the first time Bugs is depicted tunneling underground as a mode of transportation, and the first time he says "I knew I should have taken a left turn at Albuquerque" and was the inspiration for the Brunhilde opera sequence that would later be seen in Chuck Jones's magnum opus (among many), Whats Opera Doc
- 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 proper behavior and skills on duty, 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 to the tune of "We Did it Before".
- 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.
- Tokio Jokio was in fact deemed offensive even at the time and AOL-Time Warner refuses to air or release it in any form.
- 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!
Goering and Goebbels: Ja, everybody knows dot!
Daffy: They lose more darn Nutzis that way! Woo-hoo!
- There's also the short musical commercial colloquially titled, Any Bonds Today, where Bugs, Elmer and Porky sing and dance to promote war bonds.
- In Hare Conditioned, Bugs is being chased though a department store by the manager, and at one point, disguises himself as the elevator operator. As they are going up in the elevator, Bugs calls out the next floor as having items such as "Rubber tires, nylon hose, sugar, bourbon, butter...and other picture postcards." Fridge Brilliance is that these were items rationed during the war and weren't available to the public in any meaningful quantity, the rest of the cartoon didn't even reference the war.
- 1942's Daffy Duckaroo has a group of indians attack a traveling Daffy, and steal the tires off his trailer. They then angrily give them back because they're the wrong size. In another scene, he's shown pointing a gun at his pursuer and making "pop" noises, explaining "We don't use any ammunition folks, we save it all for the army!"
- 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).