Peace on Earth is a 1939 MGM Oneshot Cartoon, released while Europe was on the verge of World War II, directed by Hugh Harman. 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 was perhaps the first animated short by a major studio* 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."† 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.
Both Hugh Harman's obituary in The New York Times and TCM's Ben Mankiewicz have claimed that the cartoon was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, but this is most likely an urban legend, as the cartoon is not listed in the official Nobel Prize nomination database.
According to one person who spoke with Harman and Rudy Ising at a 1980s 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:
- An Aesop: In this Christmas special, Funny Animals discuss a not-so-funny topic; that is, how "men" went extinct due to warfare (World War II was clearly on the horizon at the time and this was before nuclear weapons were developed, mind you). We see some of the horrors of warfare depicted WWI-style. And when the men had gone, the animals afterwards read the "humans' book of rules" and express disappointment that the humans had some good rules (e.g. Thou Shalt Not Kill) but weren't able to follow them.
- After the End: Well, the end of Man anyway. The surviving animals have taken over.
- Animal Is the New Man: The story takes place after mankind died out, where animals become intelligent and take over the world after humans kill each other down to the last man in an apocalyptic global war. A 1955 remake would change the exact cause to nuclear war.
- 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.
- As the Good Book Says...: The title is derived from Luke 2:14 (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 61:4 (also KJV) – "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."
- Bittersweet Ending: While humanity was wiped out, the surviving animals learned from the mistakes of man and have achieved peace on Earth.
- Carnivore Confusion: Wise Owl to curious squirrel:"Thou shalt not kill! ...Looks like a mighty good book of rules."
- Christmas Special: Probably the scariest one ever.
- Cockroaches Will Rule the Earth: Made in 1939 (just before World War II would be set off), and is set after a war in which Humans have gone extinct, after fatal global war. As narrated by a kindly old squirrel (voiced by Mel Blanc) to his grandchildren. The animals of the Earth build a new civilization following this self inflicted omnicide. This was also remade in 1955 as "Good Will to Men" and modified with an anti-nuclear warfare message.
- Cool Old Guy: The squirrel grandfather who entertains his grandchildren with the story of the fall of man.
- Disappeared Dad: The father of the two squirrel children is nowhere to be seen.
- Doting Grandparent: The grandfather clearly loves his squirrel grandchildren.
- Gas Mask Mooks: Humans (see Humans Are Cthulhu, below).
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: The grandfather, after sitting on a pin-cushion.
- Grotesque Cute: Downplayed. The adorable Woodland Creatures build a colorful and happy little village...out of discarded soldier's helmets, shrapnel, and other debris.
- 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: The given description of humans, which is reminiscent of a World War I-style soldier wearing a gas mask."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!"
- Humans Are Warriors: Humans were so bent on warring against each other that it ultimately resulted in their violent extinction. If Grandpa Squirrel's story is literally true Humans were so obsessed with fighting each other that the last two men on Earth shot each other dead even after their leaders, armies, and nations had been destroyed."Why they was always fighting...they fought and they fought until there was only two of them left."
- Kill All Humans: Not that the critters wanted them to, y'know.
- Last of Their Kind: The human race dwindled until there was only two men left in the world on either side of a barren wasteland. One of them, a British soldier, shoots the other, a German, in the heart. With his last ounce of strength the German fires his gun, presumably killing the other soldier, before succumbing to his wound and dying in the puddle where he stood.
- Match Cut: When the grandfather begins to describe what men looked like, he stands up and imitates a soldier marching, while the scene dissolves from his shadow on the wall to a soldier marching toward the camera.
- 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 grimness of the previous sequence worse.
- Mouse World: Made out of abandoned helmets and weaponry (pan out on a lamppost reveals it to be a bayonet).
- Mutual Kill: The way the last two humans on Earth meet their death, each killed by the other's final shot.
- The Owl-Knowing One: Apparently he's the only animal that learned how to read somewhere.
- Pain to the Ass: When the elderly squirrel tries to sit down in an easy chair, he ends up sitting on his daughter's knitting needles.
- 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.
- Sinister Schnoz: Grandpa Squirrel mistakes the filter hose of the human's gas masks for "long snoots that... fastened onto their stomachs".
- Sugar Apocalypse: Inverted. Amid the wreckage of a massive war that completely destroyed humanity, a bunch of talking animals build a new civilization which is an outright Sugar Bowl.
- Take That!: The premise of the anti-war message pits "meat eaters" against "vegetarians", and uses the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" to basically make war look as frivolous as the short can.
- Title Drop: "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing" is reworked into a less overtly religious song that does this (the phrase "peace on earth" is in the original hymn, but not in the same place). The title is actually said 17 times throughout the short.
- 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.
- A World Half Full: "Peace on Earth, yes indeed!"