Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Victory Through Air Power

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Victory Through Air Power

Year: 1943

Source materials : It is based on the 1942 book Victory Through Air Power by Alexander P. de Seversky.

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Budget: $788,000

Box office: $799,000

Plot: The film starts with an animated section on the history of aviation, starting with the Wright Brothers and moving through time through the first World War up until the outbreak of World War II.

 

After a brief introduction, certifying his status as a badass (see below), we meet aviation expert Alexander P. de Seversky. He discusses the start of the war and how the German use of air power was able to subdue France and Norway, who were relying on strategies from the first war.

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He states that the RAF was vital in supplying air support for both the evacuation of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain. He recounts how Japanese air power was responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

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Seversky then goes on to describe the situation with Allied supply lines. Since the center of production was so far from the theaters of combat, the supplies were constantly in danger of attack by U Boats.

He felt that eventually Germany would fall when long-range Allied bombers could assault the German war machine. He felt Japan would be much more difficult to defeat due to the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. He felt that the smaller planes that were able to take off from aircraft carrier would not have the firepower to successfully strike the islands of Japan. Seversky uses a metaphor of a large sea monster with tentacles extending to the many islands. Attacking the tentacles is futile, but instead the head should be attacked.

 

Seversky proposes that long-range bombers be developed and based out of Alaska, allowing the supply line to run right over the North American continent. The movie ends with an animated sequence of Allied bombers flying from Alaska to Japan, delivering an air strike. The final sequence is the American Eagle attacking the aforementioned sea monster, striking its head, killing it.

Background: Disney was well under way making informational films for the US government. 1 Walt Disney read Victory Through Air Power and felt that its message was so important that he personally financed the animated production of the book. The film was primarily created to express Seversky’s theories to government officials and the public. After Disney’s main distributor at the time RKO Radio Pictures refused to release the film in theaters, Walt decided to have United Artists release it instead, making it the first and only Disney animated feature to be released by a different movie studio. The animators read like a classic who’s who of animation: Ollie Johnston, Ward Kimball, John Lounsbery, Bill Tytla , Marc Davis…

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Alexander Nikolaievich Prokofiev de Seversky 2 was born in the Russian Empire in what is now know as Georgia. His father owned his own aircraft and Seversky knew how to fly by age 14, when he entered the Imperial Russian Naval Academy. He served in World War I, and was shot down during combat, resulting in his leg being amutated. Tsar Nicholas II intervened on his behalf and Seversky returned to duty. He went on to fly 57 combat missions, shooting down six German aircraft. During the 1917 Revolution, Seversky left Russia and settled in New York.

 

In 1918, Seversky offered his services to the War Department. Over the next few years, he filed 364 patents on improving air flight. He founded the Seversky Aero Corporation in 1923. Shortly after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, he wrote Victory Through Air Power, published in April 1942, advocating the strategic use of air bombardment. It was a best-selling book with five million copies sold. In postwar years, Seversky continued to lecture and write about aviation and the strategic use of air power, following up his landmark treatise with Air Power: Key to Survival and America: Too Young to Die!

Critical Reception: Film critic James Agee:

Major de Seversky and Walt Disney know what they are talking about, for I suspect that an awful lot of people who see Victory Through Air Power are going to think they do … I had the feeling I was sold something under pretty high pressure, which I don’t enjoy, and I am staggered at the ease with which such self-confidence, on matters of such importance, can be blared all over the nation, without cross-questioning.

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Legacy: One scene showed a fictional rocket bomb destroying a fortified German submarine pen. According to anecdote, this directly inspired the British to develop a real rocket bomb to attack targets that were heavily protected with thick concrete. Due to its origin, the weapon became known as the Disney bomb, and saw limited use before the war ended.

Throughout the rest of the war, Disney characters effectively acted as ambassadors to the world. In addition to Victory Through Air Power, Disney produced Donald Gets Drafted, Education for Death, Der Fuehrer’s Face, and various training films for the military, reusing animation from Victory Through Air Power in some of them.

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Availability: Good luck finding this one. In 2004, the Disney Studios released it on DVD as part of a wartime collection in the Walt Disney Treasures DVD series. You can watch the film on YouTube, but consider that these videos are usually a small picture in the corner of the screen. 3

My take: The movie is worth viewing for the beginning and opening sequences alone. I was fascinated by the history of aviation, especially the invention of a timing sequence allowing bullets to be shot between the blades of a spinning propeller. I felt that the animation helped illuminate Seversky’s points rather clearly. The final sequence is impressive.

Next Week: Another one that’s hard to find: So Dear to My Heart. (I realize that Song of the South is chronologically next, but I felt that a white guy talking about that film during Black History Month might be in poor taste. I have postponed it until March.)