Many of the major animation studios got involved in promoting the war effort during World War II which created one of the most intriguing periods of animation history. I feel like taking a look at several war-time shorts this week, beginning with funny but dark film from Warner Brothers, “The Ducktators.”
Right from the opening title card, featuring an egg with a Nazi swastika on it, you know this film will have an unpleasant side. The film concerns a “bad egg” which hatches into a duck that resembles Adolph Hitler. He begins to create an army out of the other ducks and is eventually joined by a goose resembling Mussolini and another duck representing Hirohito. In the end, all three are defeated by a fed up Dove of Peace. The dove ends up keeping their heads on his wall as trophies. The film is actually in the public domain now and many versions of it are missing this final joke not to mention the appeal to the audience to buy war bonds, though the entire film is intact on the Golden Collection Vol. 6 set.
This is a shocking film to watch. At the time it was made, the world had no idea the full extent of Hitler’s crimes…to see him portrayed as a duck in a somewhat comedic way is tough to wrap your brain around. The filmmakers do go for laughs, but there is no mistaking that the ultimate goal of the film was to dehumanize the enemy.
From an animation standpoint, the highlight is the animation of the Hitler duck. The gestures and expressions the animators get out this character are as dead on an impersonation of Hitler as anyone has achieved.
Many of these war-time films have elements that can be considered quite inappropriate today, this one is no exception. But they are important films to examine to better understand the impact the war had on all aspects of American life.