Legacy Content

Toon Talk: Walt Disney: On the Front Lines DVD
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by Kirby Holt (archives)
May 10, 2004
Kirby looks at another of the upcoming Walt Disney Treasures DVDs, Walt Disney: On the Front Lines.

Toon Talk
Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt

(c) Disney

Walt Disney Treasures:
Walt Disney: On the Frontlines
Old Glory
On December 8, 1941, the day following the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that plunged the United States into World War II, the US Military officially took over the Disney Studios. Enlisted to serve the war effort, Walt and his staff stepped up to the task, producing hours and hours of military training and public education films for the government, as well as their usual output of animated cartoons, most now with an expected patriotic (some could say propagandized) bent. In addition to these shorts, the Studios also produced the feature-length Victory Through Air Power, a rallying cry to increase the use of long-range aircraft in battle, and provided the artwork for insignias for over a thousand military units. Such was the artistic and creative output of the Studio up until the end of the war in 1945.

Because of the topicality and often-incendiary nature of the bulk of the films from these infamous ‘war years’, most have had little to no public exhibition since their original releases. In fact, due to their sensitive subject matters as they related to national security, almost all of the military training product was strictly classified up until recently. The knowledge of these films, coupled with their rarity of their availability, has always caused a tremendous amount of curiosity and intrigue to longtime animation and Disney buffs. Put simply, most never thought that they would ever be able to see these films as they were originally presented.

Well, once again, let us all raise a toast to the invention of the DVD and, most especially, to Leonard Maltin. His enthusiasm and perseverance in making the complete film history of the Disney Studios available to the general public is most evident in this Walt Disney Treasures set, Walt Disney: On the Frontlines, which gathers together an enormous amount of material from that time period and presents it point blank, with no punches pulled.

For, no doubt about it, a lot of this material could be described as shocking, jaw-dropping, racist, xenophobic, dated, over-the-top, flag-waving and/or, that ultimate of ‘sins’ in this day and age, NOT politically correct. One could leave it at that, or see the incredible importance of viewing these works today as the windows back in time that they truly are, and as they are honestly presented here to be.

One can easily see that, even with the extreme pressures that only those in wartime know, Walt and his staff still managed to crank out an impressive line-up of entertainments, some of which could be easily deemed some of the finest work they have ever done, from the broad, Chaplinesque satire of Der Feuhrer’s Face to the unblinking glimpse into the horrors of humanity seen in Education for Death to the engrossing treatise that is Victory Through Air Power. But even in such lighter fare as the ‘Donald Duck in the Army’ cartoons or with the straightforward educational shorts, one can still see the striving for quality inherent in all Disney works. And, as Maltin makes special notice of (with just a hint of pride), no other Hollywood film studio devoted as much time, effort, talent and resources to aiding the war effort.

With On the Frontlines, fans of Disney and animation, not to mention historians, cinematic or otherwise, have finally been given the opportunity to see these legendary, almost mythic, films, uncensored and in their entirety.

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