It stars Donald Duck being tempted to spent money on personal fun or pay taxes to support the war effort. Eventually Donald is convinced to support the war effort and the rest of the cartoon shows the audience how the money is used to defeat the Axis. The cartoon was quite a success and many Americans did indeed pay their taxes more gleefully afterwards.
Like most wartime cartoons the short is never broadcast on television, because it is an Unintentional Period Piece. It is also one of the few Disney cartoons to have fallen into the Public Domain early.
"The Spirit of '43" provides examples of...
- Adolf Hitlarious: When caught in a tug of war outside the Idle Hour club (with a swastika-shaped gate), when the narrator asks if Donald is going to spend for the Axis, the zoot-suit wearing Spendthrift is caricatured as the Fuehrer, while the smoke from his cigarette forms the shape of a swastika.
- America Won World War II: The second half of the cartoon shows how the tax payer's money is used to defeat Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.
- Annual Title: The year 1943 is mentioned in the title.
- Armor-Piercing Question: The narrator asks Donald: "Now what are you going to do? Spend for the Axis... or save for taxes?"
- Good Angel, Bad Angel: The thrifty side and the spentworthy side are not literally depicted as angels or devils, but they both argue with Donald's conscience on how to use his money.
- Leitmotif: The opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, which were used to signify "V for Victory".
- Literal Metaphor: Donald's idle money literally burns a hole in his pocket.
- Man in a Kilt: The thrifty Scot wears a kilt.
- National Stereotypes: The Scot is thrifty, has sideburns, walks around in a kilt, rolls his "r" 's, says "Nah" instead of "No" and is accompanied by bagpipe music on the soundtrack.
- Patriotic Fervor: The cartoon plays on the patriotic pride of its American audience.
- Propaganda Machine: This cartoons was made to make the American people understand why they should pay such high taxes in regard to the war effort.
- Public Domain Animation: Disney never renewed the copyright for this cartoon, for obvious reasons.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: "Yankee Doodle Dandy", "The Star Spangled Banner" and "My Country Tis Of Thee That I Sing" are heard on the soundtrack. Ludwig van Beethoven's "5th Symphony" is quoted too, because the opening bars were the signal of the "V for Victory" campaign.
- Spiritual Successor: To The New Spirit. No sequel was needed in '44, because by then Federal Income Tax Withholding had been introduced.
- Stock Footage: The second half of the cartoon, which shows how the taxes will be used to defeat the Axis and the shot of Donald with waving American flags in his eyes are re-used from The New Spirit.
- Shout-Out: The narrator quotes from Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech during his enthusiastic narration.
- Time Marches On: From the title alone one can see this cartoon is dated. It was solely made as a war time propaganda short for the year 1943. It even names explicit dates (March 15, June 15, September 15 and December 15) when everyone should pay his taxes.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Apart from the spentworthy side of Donald, who is revealed to be a comedic caricature of Hitler, wacky Nazis are notably absent in this cartoon. In the second half of the cartoon Nazism is depicted as an evil monster that must be defeated.
- Thrifty Scot: The thrifty side of Donald is represented as a Scot, and appears to be a prototype of one Scrooge McDuck.
- Trrrilling Rrrs: The thrifty Scot rolls his 'r's.
- War Is Glorious: The war effort will surely lead to victory, according to the narrator.
- War Time Cartoon: A blatant example. The store where Donald wants to spend his money is called "The Idle Hour Club". It also has very unsubtle signs like "Blow your dough" and "Welcome, sucker!" Later the opening gates turns out to be a swastika and the spentworthy duck suddenly sports a Hitler moustache and wears swastika's on his clothing. He even produces swastika smoke rings from his cigarette pipe. When Donald punches the spentworthy duck into the store the swastika gates are destroyed and form the "V" sign with the opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony playing in the background.