Short Film Saturday: Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943)

I saw this film plenty of times growing up. I think once upon a time Disney had a VHS collection of wartime shorts. This became one Disney would make sparse over years until the Disney Treasures line was launched and all the World War-Two era shorts were re-collected. Leonard Maltin typically not only did intros for the DVD collections, but also specific shorts that may have problematic content in a more politically correct age. Are the portraits of Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini broad stereotypes? Yes. However, I’m not sure the availability was limited just due to that. The film is for the most part just a mockery of these three dictators, namely Hitler, and the disdain for him is fairly clear throughout. The main objection could be that the plot is Donald has a nightmare that he’s a Nazi. I realize that it’s risky to put an already iconic character like Donald Duck in Nazi paraphernalia, but this is a product of the war, this like many other wartime Disney fare can be classified both as being entertaining and propaganda. I doubt there’s a nation on Earth that’s been immune to propagandizing in cinema, much of it still consumed for aesthetic and historical purpose to this day.

The risk Disney took with Donald recognized and rewarded by the Academy with an Oscar. The nightmare aspect is a reveal, but one you can see this coming once the surreal sequence starts, and at the end he unabashedly exclaims his love for the US. I think the riskiness of the venture is lessened by the fact that Donald is still Donald. Namely, he’s ornery, accident prone and somewhat a non-conformist and not a “good Nazi” at all, even in a dream.

I’m glad that Disney did bring this one out of hiding with a disclaimer. If you feel something is inappropriate for mass consumption, you’re more than free to say so. However, I do think this falls within the realm of satire, and I’d hate to see that become further endangered just because on occasion it goes too far. Which is me speaking in generalities, most of the cultural insensitivity you may find in this piece is aimed at the dictators themselves. Anyway, without much further adieu, enjoy!

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