Doing Their Bit: Wartime American Animated Short Films, 1939-1945

Article excerpt

Michael S. Shull and David E. Wilt.

Doing Their Bit: Wartime American Animated Short Films, 1939-1945.

McFarland, 2004.

246 pages; $38.50.

Parody's Importance

Back in 1996-after years of combing through dozens of references books, sifting hundreds of newspaper reviews, probing untold magazines and journals articles, and privately viewing scores of moving pictures-two popular culture historians, Michael Shull and David Wilt, finally published their monumental World War II propaganda study, Hollywood War Films, 1937-1945, a tome so detailed and exhaustive that by any standards it still remains the best reference tool of its kind. Here, in this 482-page survey is the finite examination of flag-waving photodramas that fostered a nation's morale, glorified the American fighting man, and-as expected-fired off numerous potshots at the Axis scourge.

But this was not the only time these two authors had culled through the second World War's cinematic history. In 1987, their first book, Doing Their Bit: Wartime American Animated Short Films, took a serious look at the approximately 1,000 Hollywood cartoons that appeared during this global conflict and their effect on stateside audiences proving, once again, parody's importance as a viable propaganda format. Why wouldn't it? Everyone went to the movies during the War and these cartoons simply became an extension of the persuasion machine. If John Wayne and Randolph Scott could rout America's foes, why not Donald Duck or Popeye the Sailor Man?

In exploring this topic-the use of animation as wartime propaganda-Wilt and Shull examined these 1,000 cartoons produced by the seven major production companies and found that twenty-five percent referred to the global conflict. Such well-known featured characters as Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Barney Bear, Goofy, Elmer Fudd, Woody Woodpecker, Porky Pig, even Superman fought America's enemies in gems such as Confusion of a Nutzy Spy, You're a Sap, Mr. Jap, For Better or Nurse, and Carmen's Veranda and hammered away at the Axis nemesis while reminding audiences that in the end, the Red-White-and-Blue would emerge victorious. Clearly Doing Their Bit, as Classic Images exclaimed was "invaluable."

Now, seventeen years later, an updated second editioncontaining an enlarged filmography, some revised statistics, new photographs, and a chapter about the Private Snafu series, a collection of photodramas shown only to servicemen-adds more information about America's attitudes toward World War II and the Hollywood response to such feelings. …