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Western Animation: Peace on Earth

Peace on Earth (found here) was a 1939 MGM Oneshot Cartoon, released while Europe was on the verge of World War II, directed by Hugh Harman, and considered to be his Magnum Opus. Anvilicious in its anti-war message, this short illustrates the evils of warfare through the narration of a kindly old squirrel (Mel Blanc), one of the only squirrels in his village old enough to have encountered humans. It made # 40 on The 50 Greatest Cartoons list compiled by members of the animation field, and was perhaps the first animated short by a major studio note  to deal with serious subject matter. Also a source of quite a bit of nightmares, especially for those caught off guard by the cute little squirrels in the opening scenes.

The short begins with a snowy panorama of the scattered relics of mankind's existence, over a chorus of "Peace on Earth " (to the tune of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"), which is revealed to be sung by a trio of squirrels living in a village made of discarded war materials; the most prevailing image is that of soldiers' helmets used as houses. An old squirrel greets them with a "Merry Christmas" and goes to visit his daughter and her two young children. When the children ask what one of the lyrics to "Peace on Earth" (namely "goodwill to men") means, their grandfather begins to tell them all he remembers about men. We are then shown masterly rotoscoped, nightmarish scenes of human soldiers going to war with one another, fighting over anything they could think of fighting over until the last two humans alive shoot each other. With the humans all gone, the only ones left are the furry woodland creatures, who gather in the ruins of a cathedral, and find an old "book of rules", which the humans unfortunately didn't follow. The wise owl among them reads first a few of the ten commandments (Thou Shalt Not Kill, thou shalt not steal; "Looks like a mighty good book of rules.") and then a passage which states "Ye shall rebuild the old wastes."note  The animals consider that a very good idea, and decide to build a civilization for themselves out of the scattered débris left by mankind. The grandfather then puts his two sleeping grandchildren to bed, seemingly glad that with the humans gone, there is now peace on Earth.

In the 1950's, William Hanna and Joe Barbera remade the cartoon as Good Will to Men, updating the story with an anti-nuclear warfare message.

According to one person who spoke to Hugh and Rudy at a 1980's convention, the duo were planning to make a feature-length remake of this short, but it never got off the ground.


This animated short contains examples of the following tropes:

  • After the End
  • Apocalypse How: Class 3a (people go extinct from unnatural causes) to be precise, showing this trope is Older than Television in this specific case.
  • Apocalypse Wow: They go through a lot of effort showing how humans killed each other off.
  • An Ass Kicking Christmas
  • As the Good Book Says: The title is derived from Luke II, xiv. (in the King James translation): "Glory to God in the highest; and on earth, peace, good will toward men." The re-building passage read by the owl is based on Isaiah, LXI, iv.: "And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations."
  • Carnivore Confusion: Wise Owl to curious squirrel:
    "Thou shalt not kill! ...Looks like a mighty fine rule."-
  • Christmas Special: Probably the scariest one ever.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The adorable Woodland Creatures build a colorful and happy little village...out of discarded soldier's helmets, shrapnel and other debris.
  • Disappeared Dad: The father of the two squirrel children is nowhere to be seen.
  • Everything's Nuttier With Squirrels
  • Gas Mask Mooks: Humans (see Humans Are Cthulhu, below).
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: The grandfather, after sitting on a pin-cushion.
  • Humanity's Wake: The woodland creatures pay homage to humans by keeping traditions like Christmas alive and living in towns made up of old soldier helmets.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: "As I remember them, they were great big beasts with long snouts that went into their stomachs!"
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters:
    "Gee, I'm sure glad there ain't no more men around!"
  • Kill All Humans: Not that the critters wanted them to, y'know.
  • Mood Whiplash: We go from seeing the last two humans on Earth shoot each other to a colorful scene of cute little squirrels gleefully building themselves a little town in the span of a couple minutes - which somehow just makes the Nightmare Fuel worse.
  • Mouse World: Made out of abandoned helmets and weaponry (pan out on a lamppost reveals it to be a bayonet).
  • Mutual Kill
  • The Owl-Knowing One: Apparently he's the only animal that learned how to read somewhere.
  • The Remake: The Hanna-Barbera team at MGM remade the short in 1955 (at the height of the Cold War) as "Good Will to Men"; after the terrible carnage of World War II, its message was even more poignant. This version specifically addresses the postwar arms race and its escalation — both sides using "the biggest bomb of all" at the same time resulted in two explosions that blanketed the entire planet, wiping out humanity. Though the religious overtones were amped up a notch further in this version.
  • Rotoscoping
  • Scavenged Punk: The village the squirrels live in.
  • Silly Reason for War: The warring factions eventually include meat-eaters fighting vegetarians, and flat-footed people fighting buck-toothed people.
  • Space Whale Aesop: If war is allowed to continue, humanity will end up driving themselves to extinction and then cutesy animals will become intelligent and reclaim the world as their own.
  • Spiritual Successor: The 1984 Russian film There Will Come Soft Rains does the same thing, but with an automated house instead of furry critters, and obviously without the religious themes (although it should be noted the film is set in America, and the house AI quotes a Bible verse to granny's remains).
    • Probably because it's based on a short story by (American) author Ray Bradbury, which is in turn was inspired by a poem by (American) poet Sara Teasdale.
  • Sugar Apocalypse: Played straight, and then Inverted.
  • Title Drop
  • Unusual Animal Alliance
  • War Is Hell: And not only that, but the moral of the story seems to be that war is pointless and will eventually kill our species off.
  • Woodland Creatures
  • A World Half Full: "Peace on Earth, yes indeed!"

MGM Oneshot CartoonsThe Great DepressionAndy Panda
Little Red Riding RabbitThe 50 Greatest CartoonsRooty Toot Toot
Brave Little TailorAcademy Award for Best Animated Short FilmThe Mad Scientist
Good Little MonkeysFilms of the 1930sThe Little Rascals
Northwest Hounded PoliceAnimated FilmsRed Hot Riding Hood

alternative title(s): Peace On Earth
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