Dr. Toon: Der Führer's Paintbrush
From 1942 until the end of the war, American animation pounced on Hitler as a figure of ridicule and disgust; every studio in the nation chimed in at least once. The leader of Nazi Germany was portrayed as an animal such as a duck (The Ducktators, WB 1942), a vulture (Song of Victory, Columbia, 1942), a wolf (Daffy the Commando, WB, 1943), or a pig (The Last Round-Up, 1943, Paul Terry studio). Often Hitler was caricatured as himself; his toothbrush mustache, slanted forelock, and livid frown made him an irresistible target for parody. One of the best efforts was Russian Rhapsody (WB 1942), directed by Bob Clampett; it featured Herr Hitler in all of his dyspeptic glory. Hundreds of cartoons mocked the haughty dictator's likeness or made contemptuous mention of him.
It was left to Walt Disney studios, the subject of Hitler's envy, to lower the boom most emphatically. Education for Death (1943) dealt Hitler perhaps the deepest ridicule of any anti-Nazi propaganda film. He is Prince Charming in a parody of Sleeping Beauty, awakening a grossly obese Brunhilde representing Germany. The lanky Führer, clad in silver armor, struggles to push his monstrous lady-love on to an overburdened horse as she moons over him like a silly teen. Der Führer's Face was a 1943 Disney effort starring Donald Duck, who dreams he is a citizen of Nazi Germany. This savage lampoon features many caricatures of Hitler, each one of which must be saluted by Donald at the cost of his freedom. The cartoon ends with Hitler receiving a ripe tomato in the face as the titular Spike Jones tune mocks Germany's dictator.
The unkindest cut of all, however, came two years before. Disney lent the Seven Dwarfs to the National Film Board of Canada, where they promoted war savings bonds to the public. "Invest in Victory!" was the message, and there was no doubt about who was to be defeated. The Dwarfs did the same a year later, also for the Canadians, in a short called All Together. The Seven Dwarfs, subjects of Hitler's own watercolors, were exhorting his enemies to invest in his destruction. It was an ironic turn of events for the dictator, who wanted his own animators to make a film as good as the one the Dwarfs starred in.
But that evening in 1940, all of this lay in the future. Never did Adolf Hitler dream, as he delicately limned Doc's eyeglasses in watercolor, that Doc, as well as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Popeye, Gandy Goose, Private Snafu, porky Pig and Donald Duck, would soon be mocking him, flattening him, blowing him up and driving him insane in every way imaginable. Tonight Hitler would leave his watercolor of Doc out on the table to dry. Perhaps he would take it to Ubersalzberg the next evening, screen Snow White again, and gauge how close he had come to reproducing Disney's brilliance. As with his dreams of a thousand-year Reich and perfect genocide, he would fall short, as he was ever destined to do.
Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.