Disney Film History: Victory Through Air Power
1943’s Victory Through Air Power is an interesting film. Much like The Reluctant Dragon which came out a few years prior, this film strays from the typical Disney animated feature and is split between live action scenes and short animation bits. Despite the U.S. government’s bank account supporting Walt Disney’s productions during this time, making propaganda films and such, Walt fully funded the Victory Through Air Power film himself because he believed in it so much. That being said, it wasn’t just sent out to the boys oversees or seen by military personnel, but was released theatrically, giving a boost to the morale of an America at war. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here though. Let’s back up a few years to when the collaboration between Disney and the U.S. government began.
On December 7th, 1941, the United States was forced into World War II with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a blow to the heart of the U.S. On December 8th, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the U.S. government asked Walt Disney to help in the war efforts and the Disney Studios was converted into somewhat of a military base. Soldiers could be spotted marching throughout the grounds and within the buildings of the studio, Disney and his animators, along with military officials, were putting together propaganda films, posters, and whatever the U.S. wanted the company to do. Walt Disney was also asked to go on a goodwill ambassador tour of South America to help fend off the Nazi party from convincing South America to help them. (But we already covered that in the last review of Saludos Amigos. You can read that HERE!) When Walt returned to the studio after 3 months in South America, he read a copy of Major Alexander P. de Seversky’s book entitled “Victory Through Air Power”. Walt loved it so much, he immediately wanted to turn it into a film. After contacting De Seversky, Walt not only convinced him to give Disney the film rights but also to be in the film. Victory Through Air Power was quickly put into production with a cost of $799,000 in late 1942.
The film’s opening deviates from the book, giving an overview of how airplanes had changed war and an amusing animated short about the history of aviation. The film segways into an introduction of De Seversky before he takes over the rest of the film explaining how long range bombing from airplanes could be the right strategy to use to win in war. From De Seversky’s introduction onward, the film takes a serious turn. The Russian born Major talks about war tactics from land and sea and why his projections of long range bombing attacks are the best way to battle our enemies in Germany and Japan. The documentary “talking head” style of the De Seversky part of the film is also spliced with animations but these animations are far more simple, usually using moving lines on a portrait instead of a fully animated scene. This lead to cheaper costs for Disney and also helped get the narration’s point across instead of viewers focusing on the animation involved.
The film was shot cheaply and quickly, but Walt Disney still didn’t have much money to put into it and the film was a gamble, much like many of his previous films, but the purpose of Victory Through Air Power wasn’t too make money, but to inspire the leaders of the U.S., the troops fighting for the U.S., and of course, the American people who saw it in the theater. The film’s release was on July 17th, 1943 and reviews came back as positive for the film. Seen as a documentary feature, reviews from critics and the public suggested that De Seversky and Walt Disney both did their research, understood aviation, and could convey their opinions to the masses with ease. The film broke even after it’s release in 1943 and it’s re-release a year later. That makes this film financially more successful than Pinocchio, Bambi, and Fantasia. Crazy Right?! The film also received an Academy Award nomination for best musical score giving it legitimacy as a serious motion picture documentary worth noting as important in history, even if it’s just by it’s musical score.
The film is also much more important in other ways. Copies of the film were also sent to government officials, inspiring the likes of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill to take on some of De Seversky’s aviation tactics. It was also a chance for FDR to realize how vital film can be during war times. It can teach us, inspire us, and build morale. From this point on, Disney’s government projects were put into hyperspeed and short propaganda cartoons were put out in rapid succession.
De Seversky led a promising career in lecturing after the film. He also wrote two more books based on aviation in America. Despite being born in Russia, he prided himself as an American and continued to lecture on the greatness of America and it’s course in aviation. Much of his work has been translated into what we now called Strategic Air Command and his innovative ideas for aviation shaped how we made and used aircraft, not only for military use but also for commercial airlines and cargo planes.
For Walt Disney, Victory Through Air Power meant success for his company, not in the way of finances, but in the way of another type of film they could do and were good at. Animation had always been their forte but now they had made two films with live action segments and this film not only cost less than some of his animated films, but also broke even and was seen as a triumph in educational Documentaries. That being said, ducational films became a staple of the Disney company after this and have continued to be a prominent feature all the way up to today’s Disney Nature films. I’m sure we will cover some of those films in upcoming posts in the series.
Posted on May 8, 2013, in Articles, The Whole Picture and tagged aviation, de Seversky, Disney, Film, History, military, Review, Victory Through Air Power, Walt Disney, World War 2, WWII. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.