This is a unique film in Disney Production's history. This film is essentially a propaganda film selling Major Alexander de Seversky's theories about the practical uses of long range strategic bombing. Using a combination of animation humorously telling about the development of air warfare, the film switches to the Major illustrating his ideas could win the war for the allies.
Alexander de Seversky ... Himself (as Major Alexander P. de Seversky)
Art Baker ... Narrator (voice)
Billy Mitchell ... Himself (archive footage)
James Algar (animated sequences)
Clyde Geronimi (animated sequences)
Jack Kinney (animated sequences)
H.C. Potter (director of de Seversky scenes)
This is the rarest of the rare. It's the one Disney film involving animation that has virtually disappeared. It is most absorbing and interesting and uses animation and a good narrative to clearly make a case for strategic bombing offensives to turn the tide of WW II. It was instrumental in this effort, causing both Churchill and Roosevelt to sit up and take notice. Major Alexander de Seversky's book on the subject is brought to the screen with first an amusing animated history of aviation and then live footage with Severesky himself speaking to the audience to explain his theory, helped with animated examples. It is all so clear and obvious from the present time perspective that it seems incredulous that the great statesmen of the time had to be won over to the tactic. The film earned an Oscar nom for Original Score, although this was nothing special, only adequate. Amazing it did not earn a nomination in the Documentary category as it was probably more important in its effect on WWII than anything else produced in the war years. Very worth seeking out - fascinating film.
Disney like most other Americans in the early 1940s wanted to find some way to contribute to the war effort short of actually fighting. This film - along with the other wartime shorts on the DVD that contains it - stems from that impulse.
On one level, the film is meant to educate general audience in the scenarios of the history of flight, aerial combat and the (then) global crisis regarding the Allies vs. the Axis powers.
It does its job, entertaining when possible, affirming destruction and American/Allied dominance at critical points.
During my most recent viewing of it, I found that it almost seemed to make the case for nuclear warfare. Not outright, mind you, but through its continued emphasis of how Allied airstrikes, because of their remote points of origin, can/could not possibly inflict enough damage to Axis supply lines to shut them down. The film and its military authority Major Seversky propose that long range bombers are the answer - after which a presumably innovative animated version of just such a long range bomber is shown on screen: its long, clumsy-looking, with several large gunwales pointing out all over the plane's body. After seeing that, i could only surmise that military officials of the 1940s saw the folly in trying to build bigger and better airships to do in the Axis. Instead, per the film's rhetoric, the more logical solution seems/seemed to be: "Forget about trying to send a volley of superplanes; instead, send only one plane - but design its cargo to deliver Armageddon!"
"Victory Through Air Power" (1943) is one of Disney's direct propaganda films for the U.S. State Department reiterating the 1942 book of the same name. It bounces between live-action segments, with briefing-style professed theories on the abstract value of air superiority, and segments with animated diagrams and maps supporting its theories. In combination with the Disney movie, the book's author presented the idea of separating air units away from the U.S. Army and into their own department. Soonafter, the U.S. Government formed the Air Force.
This film is just one of the reminders that Walt Disney exists elsewhere from his current stature as a "children's movie producer." He was also a McCarthyist in favor of the blacklist during the Congressional witch hunts from the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC). To the day I write this, his company still censors Disney's Beethoven segment of "Fantasia" (1940) in VHS and DVD video releases due to a racial comment. Also, the only movie the company has not released of his original classics is "Song of the South," a movie about a little white boy who encounters a group of black storytellers. This writer is curious how, in the time of "Amos and Andy," Disney came up with an idea for a little black mouse in work overalls named "Mickey" which he voiced. These are interesting traits of Walt, none of which revolved around a lack of maturity.
Based on the book by Major Alexander de Seversky published in 1941, this film is basically Disney's vehicle for pressing De Seversky's military plan upon Roosevelt, Churchill and the people of America and Britain. De Seversky argued that we should use bombers to attack Axis factories, farms, lines of transportation and resources. Basically, he argued that America and England should begin killing civilians by the tens of millions. And it's a Disney film.
After a brief homage to General Billy Mitchell, the first major animated sequence of the film you've probably seen: "History of Aviation." It starts with the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, and documents the beginning of flight. It then moves on to the formation of the American Air Corps in 1908, early achievements in flight. It shows how aircraft were used in World War I, with the first surveillance planes, the first fighters and the first bombers.
The film moves on to give a history of World War II up to that point, but there are several factual errors, including a sequence where the German Army uses air cover and tanks to break the Maginot Line. In reality, Germany simply invaded France through Belgium. It shows that the invasion of Crete was a great victory for Germany, while it was actually a disaster that nearly failed.
The film then goes on to describe America's role in the war, describing America as the "Arsenal of Democracy." It argues that since American supply lines are thousands and thousands of miles long and German/Japanese supply lines are very short, Japan and Germany have a decided advantage over us. The solution? Stop attacking Hitler's tanks and soldiers, and begin attacking the factories, farms, workers and farmers which build those tanks and feed those soldiers.
The film has a decidedly unsettling tone about it. It begins as a typical Walt Disney cartoon documentary, light-hearted and funny, but it ends describing some of the most disturbing tactics of modern combat, such as blowing up dams to flood the enemy, and employing bombs that will cause earthquakes, perhaps a metaphor for nuclear weapons. It's definitely not for children.
The version found on The Disney Treasures set "On the Front Lines" is only 65 minutes long, and doesn't have the scene that argues that America is the greatest nation for aviators by insulting every nation in Europe, including our allies, France and Britain.
* After its initial release and re-release in 1943-44, the film was never publicly released or screened in the United States again for 60 years. Only the opening fragment of the "History of Flight" was shown on Disney specials. This changed in May 2004, when Disney released a fully re-mastered and uncut version of "Victory Through Air Power" on the Disney Masterpieces "On the Front Lines" DVD set.
* Walt Disney was already working on a picture about the history of aviation when production began on this film, so that material was used as a prologue.
* After seeing the movie (at Winston Churchill's urging), Franklin Delano Roosevelt finally committed to a full strategic air campaign against Germany.
* All of Alexander de Seversky's live-action monologue sequences were filmed on the Disney backlot late at night to avoid noise pollution from the nearby Lockheed aircraft factory.
* RKO Radio Pictures (Disney's usual distributor) saw no profit in this movie, and refused to carry it. Walt Disney therefore contracted with United Artists for theater distribution.
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