Saturday, March 7, 2009

Cartoon: Der Fuehrer's Face (1942, Jack Kinney)

Der Fuehrer's Face (1942)
USA, 8 min
Directed by: Jack Kinney
Written by: Joe Grant, Dick Huemer
Starring: Clarence Nash (voice)

WWII-era filmmakers used two broad approaches when attempting to discredit Adolf Hitler and Germany in general. The first, and least interesting in my view, was to treat them with the utmost seriousness, painting the Nazis are perverted, sadistic and evil baby-killers (and the like). Secondly, there was the comedic approach, by which Hitler was belittled through having entire audiences laughing in his face. The Great Dictator (1940) and To Be or Not to Be (1942) accomplish this hilariously well, but what about the younger demographics? To help communicate the evils of Nazism to children, the Walt Disney cartoon Der Fuhrer's Face (1942) tosses Donald Duck (voiced by Clarence Nash) amid Hitler's militaristic regime, where he slaves away for "48 hours a day" in a munitions factory, continually bombarded with the swastika symbol and the phrase "heil Hitler!" At the end of the cartoon, after a surreal montage of Nazi (or "Nutzi," as the film says) oppression, Donald wakes up in America, thankfully sighing "am I glad to be a citizen of the United States of America."

Despite winning an Oscar in 1943 for Best Short Subject Cartoon, Der Fuehrer's Face was rarely seen following the end of the war. As the atrocities of Hitler's "Final Solution" came to light, the Nazi badge quickly became something, not to be merely ridiculed, but to be loathed. Nevertheless, the sheer audacity of Jack Kinney's cartoon has to be seen to be believed. There's hardly a frame in which the swastika is not visible in one form or another, and Donald is ludicrously forced to bark "Heil Hitler" whenever he comes across a photograph of the Fuehrer. The cartoon's climax is a dizzyingly-surreal montage in which anthropomorphised Nazi machinery relentlessly beats Donald into submission. It's all a little disconcerting, as was its intention, but it's also a lot of fun. Also featured is Oliver Wallace's song "Der Fuehrer's Face," which was covered by Spike Jones and His City Slickers with great success. Indeed, the name of this cartoon was changed from "Donald Duck in Nutzi Land" to capitalise on the song's popularity.


  1. The cartoon is certainly available on DVD (though I can't remember which DVD set I saw it on). Otherwise, a YouTube search should prove fruitful.


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