Cast & Crew
Major Alexander P. De Seversky
Alexander D. Amatuzio
Through animation, the history of aviation is presented: On 17 Dec 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright make history at Kitty Hawk by flying their twelve-horsepower airplane for twelve seconds. The public is not impressed by their achievement, but aviation pioneers, including Alberto Santos-Dumont, who makes the first European flight in 1906, continue their exploration of the skies. The Wright brothers further their advances in 1909 when they win a military contract with the U.S. Signal Corps, while in Europe, Louis Bleriot makes the first flight across the English Channel. Aviation progresses over the next few years, but the general public still does not consider aircraft practical. At the beginning of World War I, planes are used for reconnaissance only, until pilots begin throwing things at each other. Their single-handed brand of combat expands as machine gun timers are refined and airplanes become true weapons. Pilots continue to drop bombs by hand, but the competition of warfare finally results in the development of bombers and other innovations. After the war, however, airplanes are again regarded as novelties, despite the achievements of pilots such as Charles Lindbergh and Howard Hughes. Eventually, the airplane proves its usefulness in the carrying of mail and passengers, and establishes itself as the only weapon of war to become integral to peacetime life. In 1939, war is again declared in Europe, and the advances in aviation technology since the previous war are astounding. For example, the bomb load that is dropped on Cologne, Germany, in one night is twenty times more powerful than the total amount deployed by the United States in World War I. At the end of the description of aviation's history, Major Alexander de Seversky, a Russian-born pilot who came to America in 1918 and achieved fame as a flier and inventor, is introduced. Seversky speaks about the necessity of changing attitudes about airborne warfare, a topic that was of the highest importance to World War I aviation leader General Billy Mitchell. Seversky emphasizes the unreliability and inefficiency of ground and sea warfare. The vulnerability of land and sea forces is shown, and the English triumph during the Battle of Britain is presented as an example of the need for a well-trained, well-supplied air force. No nation can be invaded if it controls its skies, asserts Seversky, and he cites the bombing of Pearl Harbor as an example of America's lack of preparedness. The ability of aircraft to transport supplies to military sites is depicted, as is the need for the United States to fulfill its role as the "arsenal of Democracy" and produce more equipment. Shipping routes are easily bottlenecked, states Seversky, especially due to the threat of superior German u-boats, whereas planes can reliably deliver supplies. Seversky also notes that in order to stop the German industrial machine, its centers of production must be destroyed through intense bombing. The problem of stopping Japanese forces is a difficult one, due to the distances involved, and Seversky proposes the construction of long-range bombers that can be launched from Alaska. Seversky also describes how a dam's own power can be utilized when bombing it, thereby stopping electricity supplies and creating massive damage, and how scientific bombing can eradicate the threat of submarines. Seversky emphasizes that the United States must improve its bombing capabilities immediately while Japan is concentrating on acquiring more land. Seversky then proposes that a single, unified air command be created, instead of splitting our forces between the Army and Navy. While Seversky praises American airmen, an animation sequence shows how bombers could take off from Alaska, fly to Japan and end the war by destroying the enemy.
Alexander D. Amatuzio
Donald Da Gradi
Oliver M. Johnston
H. C. Potter
Eva Jane Sinclair
C. O. Slyfield
Paul J. Smith
Disney Treasures - On the Front Lines
Broken down, the two-disc set includes 15 propaganda cartoon shorts, 14 educational shorts, 2 training films (along with a montage of others), and on a separate disc, Victory Through Air Power. Many of the cartoons feature Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto and Mickey Mouse in wartime situations, be they getting drafted, undertaking army missions, buying war bonds, or suffering under Nazi dictatorship.
While they were made primarily to educate and enlighten Americans about the war effort and to suggest ways that the average American could help, Walt Disney and his artists also obviously understood the importance of entertainment value - not just to help the message go down easier but to give the public some much-needed laughs. Moviegoing was at an all-time high in the early 1940s, and these films commanded a remarkable power to influence and entertain.
And so the public was treated to Donald Duck reporting to a draft office, Goofy coping with the rubber and gas shortage, Donald sent on a suicide mission to wipe out a Japanese air base, and the seven dwarfs buying war bonds in one short and dealing with malaria-spreading mosquitoes in another. Even Pinocchio, Gepetto and the three little pigs are resurrected for some educational cartoons.
Other films in this set include several commissioned by U.S. government agencies. For example, the Treasury Dept. wanted a film which would inspire Americans to pay their taxes on time. The result was "The New Spirit" (1942) starring Donald Duck, which worked so well that a follow-up, "The Spirit of '43," was made. Another short, "Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire" (1942) was commissioned by the Conservation Division of the War Production Board, and is all about the importance of saving kitchen grease for munitions production! It's one of the most entertaining in the set. So is "Reason and Emotion" (1943), a hilarious take on the importance of reason and emotion working together in every human brain, and the way that relationship is warped by the Nazis. The most infamous wartime Disney cartoon may be "Der Fuehrer's Face" (1943), which finds Donald working on a Nazi assembly line and hurling a tomato at Hitler's face.
The shorts overall are full of expressive, imaginative visuals, and it's fascinating to see how the talented animation artists of the time devoted their skills to such serious, and sometimes grim, subjects. The propaganda cartoons "Chicken Little" (1943) and "Education for Death" (1943) are cases in point and stand out as perhaps two of the grimmest cartoons ever produced in Hollywood. The latter is also one of the most beautifully animated of all the Disney shorts. Many of the 200 training films that Disney produced during the war were only recently declassified; two are shown here, along with a montage of some of the others.
Disc 2 contains the first DVD appearance of Victory Through Air Power (1943), a combination of animation and live-action which Leonard Maltin rightfully calls in his intro "the most unusual feature film Walt Disney ever made." The picture is based on an influential book of the time by Major Alex de Seversky which argued that long-range bombers were the key to winning the war. The Technicolor film was the result of Walt Disney's personal patriotism and investment in the subject. When his usual distributor, RKO, turned the project down because of its limited commercial prospects, Disney turned to United Artists instead. RKO turned out to be right - the movie didn't do well commercially - but Disney felt satisfied when he found out that Winston Churchill himself insisted that Franklin Roosevelt see the film; after watching it, the story goes, FDR did indeed commit to the expansion of the air force.
Also on the DVD is rare footage of the making of Victory Through Air Power along with production art, poster galleries, and filmed interviews with Roy Disney, story man Joe Grant, and animation artist John Hench. Leonard Maltin provides lean, interesting introductions and comments throughout, providing helpful contexts for everything, and the DVDs themselves are beautifully presented in metal boxes with attractive liner notes and menu designs. It's a class act of presenting a fascinating portal to another time in American - and Hollywood - history.
To order Walt Disney Treasures, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
Disney Treasures - On the Front Lines
After the opening credits of this film, a series of written titles, some presented as newspaper headlines, describe the career and predictions of General William Lendrum "Billy" Mitchell (1879-1936), an early advocate of a strong, unified American air force. Mitchell is also seen in newsreel footage, during which he discusses the potentials of air power. The last written title in the sequence reads: "So to the memory of Billy Mitchell, pioneer and prophet of air power, and to the gallant airmen of America, this picture is dedicated." Alexander de Seversky (1894-1974) was born in Russia and served in the imperial air service during World War I. After immigrating to the United States in 1918, he worked for the American government as a test pilot, became an American citizen and a major in the Army Air Corps Reserve and founded his own aircraft company, which produced several innovative airplanes. In his controversial, nonfiction bestseller, Victory Through Air Power, Seversky promoted the formation of a unified air force in the United States, and a wartime strategy that relied on air power instead of land or sea forces.
According to a "joint statement" issued by Seversky and producer Walt Disney, printed in the July 29, 1943 issue of New York Herald Tribune, Disney had been interested in aviation for some time and had decided "to make a picture on the history of aviation." Disney's staff did a good deal of research on the subject, but the producer felt that something was lacking, and became very intrigued by Seversky's book upon its publication in 1942. Believing that Seversky's theories should be presented to the general public in a clear, entertaining way, Disney purchased the rights to the book in June 1942, according to Hollywood Reporter news items, and began production immediately. A August 5, 1942 Hollywood Citizen-News article, announcing that Disney was adapting the book for the screen, reported that he had assigned to the project the artists who had just finished Bambi, and who were scheduled to begin work on Peter Pan. The latter film, which was not released by the Disney studio until 1953, was "shelved" while the studio worked on films for the government and production on it was not resumed until the late 1940s. The studio produced a large number of animated short and feature-length films specifically for military use, but Victory Through Air Power was its only feature-length, theatrically released picture to deal with World War II. According to a October 20, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item, due to the increased efficiency of the Disney workers, the animation required for the picture was "scheduled to be wrapped up in less than four months on the drawing boards."
In the July 29, 1943 New York Herald Tribune article, Disney disclosed that work had been done on "a beautiful sequence illustrating the folly of island-to-island 'stepping-stone' strategy in the Pacific." The sequence was deleted, however, when President Roosevelt, in a February 1943 speech, stated that the U.S. would not take the time necessary to defeat Japan by working its way forward one island at a time. A September 21, 1942 work assignment, contained in the Walt Disney Archives, reveals that a sequence, entitled "Aircraft Carrier" and depicting the Battle of Midway, had also been planned but was not included in the released picture. According to a October 15, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item, the opening sequence of the live-action footage was to show "Seversky being interviewed by a group of newspaper correspondents played by Gloria Holden, Roy Gordon, Damian O'Flynn and Edward Fielding. A February 24, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that O'Flynn had been given a military deferment in order to finish additional scenes in the picture, as well as to work on a Monogram production. A modern source states that the sequence, in which Seversky was to be asked questions that most interested the public, were filmed. They do not appear in the released picture, however. The picture's pressbook states that sounds of planes in flight were reproduced by a six-piece orchestra, because the actual airplane noises had "tinny overtones." A modern source notes that the picture was originally scheduled to include footage of Donald Duck.
An January 11, 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that, due to the studio's work for the government, Victory Through Air Power was its only feature film release in 1943. According to a review of the film in the September 1943 issue of Modern Screen, "all during production, the studio was under the guard of the Navy, as it was part of the 11th Naval Command." A modern source reports that Commander Frank W. Wead was the technical advisor assigned by the Navy to work with the studio. The film was the only feature-length Disney production to be released through United Artists. All other feature-length Disney films were released through RKO, until the formation of Disney's own distribution branch, Buena Vista, in 1953.
A April 12, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that U.S. Army and Navy officials were "pleading" with Disney to "withhold the release of the picture for a while because they do not agree with the theory that is the basis" of Seversky's proposals. The news item suggested that the picture might not be approved for exportation, but other contemporary information indicates that the studio did not encounter any difficulties with foreign distribution. In a June 3, 1944 letter, contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, PCA head Joseph I. Breen expressed his concern over the project to Disney. Breen worried that "it would be a mistake if the over-all effect of the picture would be to run down...the value...of the other branches of military and naval endeavor." He also felt that it "would be most regrettable if, out of your picture would come a disturbing feeling to families who have boys in the service, and who would get the impression from the film that these lads were being sacrified in combat because of utterly futile tools." The PCA did not formally object to the film, however.
A November 1943 American Cinematographer article on the film reported that "high military circles throughout the globe" had expressed a great deal of interest in the film, and that the Technicolor plant was rushing 16mm prints of it to the U.S. Army Pictorial Service for distribution overseas. British Air Ministry and Naval officials also wanted copies of the film "for its historical records and to show it at the Royal Air Force Staff College," according to the American Cinematographer article. Modern sources assert that Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt viewed the film during an August 1943 conference in Quebec. According to a March 31, 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item, the Argentine government twice rejected the film for exhibition in Argentina, but finally relented and passed it for distribution "without a single cut." On April 19, 1944, Hollywood Reporter announced that the Brazilian censor had approved the picture, but only on the condition that a short about Santos-Dumont be exhibited with it.
The controversy surrounding Seversky's theories was reflected in reviewers' discussions of the film, which some praised and others considered outlandish. Most critics complimented the studio's depiction of the technical aspects of Seversky's views, and its mastery of the documentary form. In the July 12, 1943 issue, a Time critic commented on the film's "prophetic sequence showing the mining and destruction of an enemy power dam, made six months before the R.A.F. wrecked the Mohne and Eder dams." A August 24, 1945 Christian Science Monitor article also praised the bomb sequence, reporting that the War Deparment had "recently given full credit to Col. Cass S. Hough for the development of what has come to be known as the Disney Bomb-a dam-breaking bomb shown in Victory Through Air Power a full nine months before it was actually developed and used on the Western front in breaking up German fortifications."
The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Score (Dramatic or Comedy Picture). Unlike the majority of feature-length Disney animated films, which are re-issued periodically, Victory Through Air Power has been theatrically re-released only once, in December 1947. The film has never been released on home video [as of 1998], although it has occasionally been exhibited at retrospectives, including the 1989 Annecy Animation Film Festival in France. The film's opening sequence depicting aviation history has been issued separately as a short.