The Disney Studios did not get much of a chance to make patriotic cartoons until World War II. Days after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Army commandeered much of the studio, and Walt and Roy Disney entered into a contract with the federal government to create logos and instructional films. The studio found itself in precarious financial shape, and the promise of steady money as well as the opportunity to serve the country made it easy for the Disneys to sign on the dotted line.
The studio created insignias for the war effort — incorporating Mickey Mouse and other characters — and created training films and short films encouraging the public to conserve and buy war bonds. Walt supervised the making of Victory Through Air Power, a documentary based on the book by Alexander P. de Seversky, which reportedly helped convince the Allied powers to concentrate on the use of planes in the war.
Disney also made films that exposed the threat of Nazism to America and other free nations around the globe. The Donald Duck short Der Fuehrer’s Face packs plenty of laughs despite some offensive stereotypes, while Education for Death alternates between hilarity and horror. The box set Walt Disney Treasures: On The Front Lines contains these films and many others made during the patriotic era of World War II.
After the war, when normal operations resumed, Disney changed his focus to live action films, and many of the pictures the company produced in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s take place in idyllic American historical and location settings — from So Dear To My Heart, to Old Yeller, to Pollyanna. Disney’s television shows featured serialized depictions of the adventures of one-of-a-kind American heroes such as Davy Crockett. These film settings and characterizations find their roots in Walt Disney’s unwavering love of country. But the greatest testaments to Disney’s special brand of patriotism still stand, nearly 50 years after his passing — the Disney Parks.