Chances are that you stumbled upon a video recently where Disney paraded their animated films from 1 to 50 in celebration of the release of Tangled. You might have marveled at the pristine quality of Snow White or clutched at your chest in childlike wonderment at the Lion King’s roar. You might have even had a flood of childhood memories wash over you like the sun on a cold day.
There’s something to be applauded in creating their 50th animated feature film, but Disney is celebrating a little bit late because there’s one movie that’s missing from that video roster.
The missing movie is Victory Through Air Power, and it makes sense that it wasn’t included in the video. It’s not the typical fairy tale. It’s not even a narrative feature. It’s a documentary about flight and fighting meant to sway the minds of the powers that be in 1943. Plus, there are brief live-action segments, and the style of the animation is completely different than the signature Disney look.
There’s no sense in mulling over the simple reason it should be included (that it’s an animated feature in a list of animated feature films), but this is as good enough a catalyst as any to take a look at a fascinating film that earns any interest paid to it.
At the start of WWII, Disney studios began creating what amounted to pure propaganda. The results were shorts like Donald Gets Drafted, Education for Death, and the enduring gem Der Fuehrer’s Face in which a swastika-donning Donald Duck is forced by a strangle effeminate Nazi flautist to make ammunition while frenziedly saluting Adolph Hitler.
Beyond the shorts, Disney created Victory Through Air Power as a feature documentary version of the book of the same name. It was a bold political argument made in cartoon form (one that had an impact on FDR’s attempt to utilize a full air assault in Europe). Naturally, it would seem out of place wedged between Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.
Nonetheless, it is a Disney animated feature, and (like the Dr. Seuss WWII propaganda films), it stands out as a compelling historical piece of filmmaking from the same studio that gave us Hakuna Matata.
Wisely, the studio finally released the film in 2004 after 60 years of keeping it locked in their vault. It is certainly a product of its time – with offensively stereotypical references to the Japanese and Germans, but seen in the right light, it becomes a window into the minds of a studio most known for creating children’s fare, and it deserves to be celebrated as the 51st animated feature on a list of only fifty.