The Eye of the Duck

A somewhat surprising image, I’m sure you’ll agree. A duck drinking coffee?

The Disney propaganda cartoon DER FUEHRER’S FACE, with its insistent Spike Jones score, is one of the more startling cultural ¬†emanations from the American war effort. Donald (above) plays a sort of Good Soldier Schweik of the Third Reich, persecuted on all sides by his Nazi superiors. It’s interesting that the film’s argument against Hitler is basically that Germans are less well-off, in terms of finances and access to consumer goods, than their American counterparts, an argument that would be quickly adapted to fit the Soviet Union once the war was over (see NINOTCHKA for a particularly entertaining example of this) and has been trotted out again to explain the motivations of Al-Qaida (see Stan Lee’s Marvel Comics response to 9:11).

Disney was always the most conservative animation studio politically, even if they were radical artistically: when Leni Riefenstahl visited Hollywood before the war, no studio head would meet with her… except Disney. Of course, most of the other guys were of Eastern European Jewish origins, whereas Disney was of German WASP descent, but still… the guy should’ve paid attention more, one feels.

Tex Avery’s BLITZ WOLF, on the other hand, is devoid of any ideology — the Hitlerian wolf is simply the baddie. This is undoubtedly the most entertaining of the anti-Nazi cartoons, due to Avery’s robust rejection of politics in favour of visual anarchy, with Hitler as the victim. Chuck Jones, who was admittedly a confirmed professional and personal confabulator, claims that when MGM toon boss Fred Quimby looked over Avery’s shoulder to see what he was drawing, he quailed: “I don’t think you should be quite so nasty to Mr. Hitler: after all, we don’t know who’s going to win this war.”

In this week’s edition of The Forgotten, over at The Daily Notebook, I examine the work of Robert Clampett and his Hitler smackdown GREMLIN FROM THE KREMLIN.

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11 Responses to “The Eye of the Duck”

  1. I don’t know if Disney is radical artistically. I must say I largely preferred Carl Barks’ comics over their animated counterparts.

    I wonder if the animators made the inarguable defense of it being impossible to do something nastier than Chaplin’s THE GREAT DICTATOR.

    The greatest political film from the Looney Tunes stable is of course DUCK DODGERS in the something 1/2 Century by Chuck Jones.

  2. Employing (and ripping off) Oskar Fischinger in Fantasia shows Disney’s radical side and his conservative side at once.

    I doubt if The Great Dictator could be cited as it’s “premature anti-fascism”, Chaplin having committed the unpardonable sin of detesting Hitler based on his policies rather than on the (later) fact of America being at war with him.

  3. The same is true of his collaborations with Stravinsky. But then political conservatism and radical artistry was an easier fit then, you had Salvador Dali in painting, Eliot and Pound in poetry. The majority of course displayed no comparable cognitive dissonance.

    Eisenstein admired Disney but made qualifications for the political conservatism of his works, Disney haunts his IVAN THE TERRIBLE movies.

    Disney is interesting in fits. His ALICE IN WONDERLAND captures Lewis Carroll like nothing else but it falls short because of the conventional Disney bits.

  4. Clampett

    Website…don’t know if you’re familiar with…

    Quite a bit on Clampett’s wartime cartoons.

  5. Kricfalusi writes with such passion and rage about animation.

    Michael Powell admired Disney immensely, and it shows. However, Powell has an idiosyncratic personal vision that’s light years from Disney’s paternalistic worldview.

  6. There’s no one quite like Spike

  7. Tom, thanks for the link to JohnK’s blog. He says much about Clampett I’ve thought for 25 years at least.

    Oh, and I really appreciate the two Davids links to Spike Jones. Apparent anarchy, but in truth controlled and done with great humor. I even have a PD film in which Spike’s band (and Nat King Cole’s trio also) are the musical highlights.

  8. mndean- de nada!

    John K shows how rich the history of animation (esp. WB) and also print comics is.

  9. I just finished watching Chabrol’s fascinating EYE OF VICHY documentary. Most of it is made up of mashed-up Vichy propaganda newsreels and the occasional comment via voiceover, but towards the end, there is a strange cartoon short where an innocent French family, mislead by an anti-semitic Jewish caricature, eagerly await the assualt of a US bomber squadron lead by Popeye, Donald Duck & Mickey Mouse. Very crude, but an interesting (if belated response) to Der Fuehrer’s Face.

  10. Wow, that sounds fascinating.

    There’s also a wartime German cartoon based on the whole “The sky is falling!” story which plays like a denunciation of the holocaust — very strange and dark and totally ill-judged as a children’s entertainment, but channelling something it has no business knowing about…

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