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Animating Peace Messages — Part 2

Karl F. Cohen takes us into the second leg of his journey through animated films that expound a message of peace.

Read Part 1 of this article.

Relena Peacecrafts pacifist stance rubs some Mobile Suit Gundam Wing viewers the wrong way. © 1995  2000 Sotsu Agency · Sunrise. All rights reserved.

Relena Peacecrafts pacifist stance rubs some Mobile Suit Gundam Wing viewers the wrong way. © 1995 2000 Sotsu Agency · Sunrise. All rights reserved.


Films about pacifists are extremely rare. Modern cultures still see people who oppose fighting as a way to resolve differences as weak, cowardly and in other negative ways. Searching the Internet for information about the violent Gundam TV series the following comments from fans of the show were found. The only character I never liked is Relena Peacecraft I thought her views were of a naive child I could never agree with the belief of any pacifist. Another person wrote, I HATE Relena. She and her stupid pacifist stuff kept getting in the way!

The most important work expressing a non-violent approach to life is Disneys Ferdinand the Bull (Oscar winner, 1938). It was based on Munro Leafs popular childrens book of the same name. The book, illustrated by Robert Lawson, was published in 1936 and it is still in print. refers to it as one of the best selling childrens books of all times, and they rank it as #1,372 in sales.

The film stars a young bull who enjoys sitting under a cork tree and sniffing flowers instead of playing rough games with the other young bulls. One day five men from Madrid come to the ranch seeking the fiercest bull in all of Spain to fight in the arena. Just at that moment Ferdinand sits on a bumblebee and in his pain he outdoes the other bulls in expressing ferociousness. So he is taken to Madrid to fight. Everybody is afraid of him. The gate to his pen is opened and out he comes. Does he rush around, snorting and expressing anger? No, he goes to the center of the ring, sits and smells the flowers that the ladies in the stands are wearing. So they had to take Ferdinand home. And for all I know he is sitting there still, under his favorite cork tree smelling the flowers just quietly.

Considering the difficulties conscientious objectors had during World War I and the state that the world was in 1938, it may seem a courageous move on Disneys part to turn the book into a cartoon. Wasnt Ferdinand a brilliant statement supporting pacifism? Considering the studios output of impressive World War II propaganda films there is good reason to ponder why this film was made.

Munro Leafs controversial book with its non-violent message was the basis for Disneys Oscar winner Ferdinand the Bull.

Munro Leafs controversial book with its non-violent message was the basis for Disneys Oscar winner Ferdinand the Bull.

The answer may simply be that Disney saw it as a popular illustrated book that would make an excellent and hopefully profitable film. It is also possible that he and other Hollywood studio heads were against the coming war as the hostilities had already cut off some of the profitable overseas markets for US films. A film supporting the pacifistic point of view would help support American isolationism. Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor he may have opposed the war for religious, moral and/or economic reasons. Also, Disney had been an ambulance driver in Europe just after WWI ended so he may have been sympathetic to men he worked with who wished to serve, but who refused to carry arms.

Supporting speculation that Disney may have opposed the coming war in 1940 is an Internet news item that, Winston Churchill secretly asked Walt Disney to make an anti-Nazi cartoon based on the legend of St. George and the Dragon. Documents from 1940 and discovered by The Telegraph in 2000, state, Noel Coward and officials from the Ministry of Information went to America to try to persuade Disney to help with Britains propaganda campaign. Their requests, however, were ignored by Disney who was determined to keep America out of the war and was anxious to protect the international market for his films. (The Telegraph, London, June 11, 2000) If the story is true, Disney may have been an isolationist at that point in time, but there may be another explanation as to why the project didnt go forward. It is quite possible that the British simply couldnt afford to pay Disney what it would cost to do the project.

I asked Howard Green (vp of Walt Disney communications), a friend who has written a great deal about Walt and has worked for Disney for many years, about the above. He wrote back, Interesting article on Pacifism. Im not sure that Walt was trying to make a statement about the war. I think he was just adapting a popular book. You might say that The Reluctant Dragon takes a pacifistic view as well. That dragon clearly is not interested in fighting. Not sure what to make of it all, but it is a good subject for speculation.

Faith and John Hubley used their art to advance themes of peace, love and understanding. All photos and images of and by The Hubleys © The Hubley Studio Inc.

Faith and John Hubley used their art to advance themes of peace, love and understanding. All photos and images of and by The Hubleys © The Hubley Studio Inc.

When he asked David Smith, a Disney archivist/historian about Walts motivation for making the film he was told, I agree that there was probably little thought of pacifism in Walts mind when making Ferdinand the Bull. One would have to research whether Munro Leaf was thinking of pacifism when writing the story.

Smith also noted, Walt did make an anti-Nazi film for the National Film Board of Canada Stop that Tank which was released in 1942. By the spring of that year, he was also beginning work on Victory Through Air Power, which totally opposite from pacifism.

A search to find Munro Leafs thoughts on the subject also failed to turn up a definitive answer to his motivation for the creation of the book or film. The most interesting reference told what others thought of the works (and possibly read into them). When The University of Maryland inducted Munroe Leaf into their Alumni Hall of Fame in 1995 (posthumously), Dianne Burch included in her speech, When published by Viking in 1936 as The Story of Ferdinand, the book sparked controversy. With the Spanish Civil War waging, political critics charged it was a satirical attack on aggression. In Germany, Hitler order the book burned while fellow dictator Stalin granted it privileged status as the only non-communist childrens book allowed in Poland. And Indias spiritual leader Mahatma Ghandi called it his favorite book. In spite of the notoriety, the nation embraced the peaceable bull. Her talk also said the book was written in less than one hour so that his close friend Robert Lawson (a relatively unknown illustrator) could show his talents. Ferdinand is available on the Disney tape Willie the Operatic Whale.

The Hole, an Oscar winner for the Hubleys in 1963, featured Dizzy Gillespie riffing on nuclear war.

The Hole, an Oscar winner for the Hubleys in 1963, featured Dizzy Gillespie riffing on nuclear war.

The Hubleys Conversations About Peace

If there were a posthumous lifetime achievement award for dedicating ones art to the cause of world peace, preserving the ecology of our planet and other positive causes, my candidates for it would be John and Faith Hubley. They broke from the Hollywood narrative tradition and explored new ways to use the art of animation. Some of their works, especially works by Faith that were made after John died, explore legends and values of Native Americans and other non-Western groups of people. The Hubleys celebrated life in their work and put forth provocative ideas about peace, love and understanding.

While the theme of peace is found in much of what they did, a few works stand out as peace films.

The Hole (Oscar winner, 1963) is an improvised conversation between Dizzy Gillespie and George Mathews. Their onscreen characters are construction workers at a site on a New York street. They argue about the laws of chance and then discuss the possibilities of a nuclear war. Visually the film wouldnt communicate much without the soundtrack. Besides winning an Oscar, it won the Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1963, a Special Jury Prize at Annecy in 63, and a Blue Ribbon Award at the American Film Festival. The Hole was released on a VHS tape called The Hole (collections of the Hubleys work is available on VHS and DVD at

The following year they created The Hat, with voices by Dizzy Gillespie and Dudley Moore and music by Gillespie. Program notes provided by Faith describe the film as, A soldier patrolling the border between two hostile countries accidentally drops his helmet over the line into enemy territory. He is prevented from retrieving it by his counterpart on the other side of the line. A dialogue ensues as the two men explore our global future.

Faiths Hello (1984) is a nine-minute film about a journey through space in a skyboat with three space travelers/musicians. Program notes for the film tell how the travelers detect that there is life on Earth. They decide to send a message to Earth. The message is Hello in many languages. Only one child gets the message. The child attempts to tell the adults, but they refuse to listen. Discouraged, the child pictures the Earth being blown up. The musicians are very compassionate and decide to send a second message. The second message is Peace. This time, many children receive the message and they begin to play the Peace Ball Game. The adults join the game and soon, all the Earth people perceive the Universe as one big cosmic playground.

cohen05_Hello-SunGod.jpgcohen06_faithLuciusBarre.jpgHello, a solo work by Faith Hubley, imagines the children of Earth playing the Peace Ball Game. Photo credit: Lucius Barre.

Hello was designed and directed by Faith and it featured the voices of Dizzy Gillepsie and the Hubleys children. The music was composed by William Russo with solos in the film played by Dizzy Gillepsie and Toots Theilemans. The animators were William Littlejohn, Emily Hubley and Fred Burns. It won several prizes at major film festivals and was incorporated into Faiths compilation feature, The Cosmic Eye (1985). Hello is available on DVD, The Hubley Collection, Vol. 2.

The roots of John Hubleys use of animation to advance social concerns can be seen in The Brotherhood of Man (1946). He was one of four writers on that project. It was a commissioned by the United Auto Workers right after WWII. The union was organizing integrated factories in racist Southern states and they wanted a film that would help them promote peace between the races. It educated viewers to the fact that apart from a few superficial differences like skin color and hair texture, we are all alike. We all have the same blood types; there are no differences in the brains and other organs of people of different races, etc.

The film is a handsome, modern looking work. The credits include: script adaptation by Ring Lardner, Jr., John Hubley, Maurice Rapf and Phil Eastman, direction by Robert Bo Cannon, animation by Cannon, Ken Harris and Ben Washam, production design by Hubley and Paul Julian, backgrounds by Boris Gorelick, music by Paul Smith. The producer was Stephen Bosustow. The production company was Industrial Film and Poster Service, a name that changed to U.P.A. a few months later.


Brotherhood of Man was based on The Races of Mankind, a pamphlet by anthropologists Ruth Benedict and Gene Weltfish. It was created in 1943 at the request of the U.S.O. for the men in the armed Forces. It disputed the Nazi belief in racial superiority. The publication was widely distributed, and later a picture book was published based on the film.

Unfortunately, the pamphlet and film came under attack for having a liberal perspective on racial equality and for the political beliefs of several of the people who produced them. In 1944, the pamphlet was banned from military libraries as opponents claimed it could lead some people to believe northern blacks might be smarter than southern whites. The pamphlet discuses how economics and education can effect intelligence scores. Is it wrong to conclude some people might have higher IQ test scores due to their having a better education? Keep in mind that much of the U.S., including the military, was segregated at that time.

With the coming of the cold war Dr. Weltfish was attacked for his political beliefs, as were several people who created the film. Ring Lardner, Jr. was one of the Hollywood 10. The films other scriptwriters were served with subpoenas to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the 1950s. The film was banned by our government, not for its content, but due to the alleged beliefs of the writers. (An excellent article on Dr. Weltfish can be found on the Internet at in the section on Womens Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society. I wrote in greater detail about some of the artists and writers of the film in my book, Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators.


Showing that opposing groups or individuals can work out their differences without violence is a theme that has appeared in a few animated shorts in recent years. Learning to resolve conflicts is an important skill to teach children. The following non-verbal films are outstanding conflict-resolution teaching tools that promote tolerance and understanding.

Tom Sito in Propagandance (1987) opens with a Russian Cossack dismounting from his horse and dancing joyously to balalaika music. Along comes an American break-dancer who interrupts the Russian music with his music. The men face-off, see each other as evil political enemies and fight. A good fairy comes along, takes a giant mallet and, off-screen, knocks some sense into their heads. The film ends with the men dancing together and the quote, All men are brothers through their music. Paul Robenson. (It was available in Animation Celebration volume 2 from Expanded Cinema, but it is now out of print.)

Director Janet Perlmans BullyDance inspires students to find peaceful resolutions. A National Film Board of Canada Production 2003 © National Film Board of Canada. All rights reserved.

Director Janet Perlmans BullyDance inspires students to find peaceful resolutions. A National Film Board of Canada Production 2003 © National Film Board of Canada. All rights reserved.

UNICEF and the National Film Board of Canada are producing educational films for their ShowPeace series. Each deals with some aspect of conflict resolution. Janet Perlman has created two films for the series. Bully Dance (2000) has silhouetted stick figures dancing to a wonderful rhythmic soundtrack. Without the use of words, the film shows a bully picking on a dancer and intimidating him. The film is being used to motivate students to talk about bullying situations and to discuss ways to reach peaceful resolutions.

Her Dinner for Two (1996) stars two slightly silly chameleons and a frog. The lizards fight over food so neither gets to enjoy it. The frog invites them to dinner and acting as a mediator, he teaches them to share. Films about getting along may seem unrelated to world peace, but teaching kids to be polite and to resolve problems with non-violent solutions may help them to prevent violence in their own lives and it may even help prevent a war someday.

Peace and the Internet

An Internet search for words like anti-war animation and peace animation will turn up hundreds or thousands of places to visit. Thanks to easy to learn software like Flash and the low cost of producing a Website, artists are now able to express themselves freely on the Internet. Hopefully some will reach a large audience. At, you can see animated cartoons made for UNESCO that include Peace is Precious from Lebanon, My Peaceful World from Thailand and other messages. From Gratz, Austria there is an animated Buddhist peace mandala Howard and Iris Beckermans Home is a short, Quicktime animated dont blow up the earth message (its the only home weve got) at Political cartoonist Mark Fiore has created a successful career doing simple animated works that are syndicated to several Websites. A search for his name should turn up dozens of his works. Among them are Peace Talks, Then and Now; What You Should Do In An Emergency and other titles.


Sayoko Kinoshita, director of the Hiroshima Animation Festival created this Peace Bird GIF for the ASIFA against War page. © Sayoko Kinoshita.

ASIFA, the international animation association has a Website with a section called ASIFA against WAR. ( All animators are invited to contribute anti-war/peace messages to this project (in graphic files, animated gifs or Flash). Candy Kugel from New York has contributed two works, 3 Blind Mice (about Iraq) and Tweedledee & Tweedledum. Yannick Mahe from France has created ASIFA Against War, Andy Garnica from Bolivia provided The Hit and Yury Krasny from Ukraine contributed Violence.

Sayoko Kinoshitas Peace Bird is another fine ASIFA anti-war message. The simple animated GIF cycle shows a bird of peace flying (it has an olive branch in its beak). Under the bird appears a cycle of three different phrases: We Love Animation, We Anti War and We Love Peace & Friendship.

Sayoko is director of the Hiroshima Animation Festival, one of the few events that presents animated programs about peace (the festival is held every other year). In 2000 she said on the festivals Website, Love and Peace is not our slogan, but it is rather a spirit of our festival. As you may know, ASIFA was founded as an international association, not only for the development of animation, but also to seek the world peace and anti-war, because ASIFA was founded by filmmakers who actually went through the nightmare of World War II. Throughout its history, ASIFA has well been organized to enhance the communication of the east and the west, even under the period of Cold War. Thus, the spirit of ASIFA and Hiroshima were united together to establish the first festival in 1985, which was the 40th anniversary of Hiroshima A-bomb.

There is also the annual International Helen Victoria Haynes World Peace Competition, organized by a member of ASIFA-Central (midwest, U.S.). It is an animation storyboard competition aimed at students and there is no entry fee.

It is refreshing to know that many animators who care about peace are willing to devote countless hours and their own money to create works on the subject. The results are often highly creative labors of love from the animation community to the world. (Why were none of the films discussed funded by Uncle Sam?)


Other Films

Animator Mark Kausler recently told me about three works I have yet to see. He writes, If you want to give prizes for anti-war cartoons, consider Charles Mintz at Columbia. He did a Krazy Kat on the League of Nations preventing war, Disarmament Conference. He also produced two Color Rhapsodies commenting on war and munitions manufacturers peddling their wares; Neighbors and the remake, Peaceful Neighbors.

The Big Cartoon Data Base on the Internet tells us that in Disarmament Conference (1931) Krazy tries to bring peace among feuding jungle animals until a group of angry hornets comes and spoils everything. In Neighbors (1935) An evil vulture tricks two roosters into killing each other by selling weapons to each of them. An unusually dark and moody cartoon for its time. The site does not provide any plot details for Peaceful Neighbors (1939).

There are also excellent films about peace from behind the Iron Curtin. One example is The Fly (1966), from the Zagreb Studio in what was then Yugoslavia. The film by Aleksandar Marks and Vladimir Jutrisa opens with a man trying to swat a tiny fly. Unfortunately for him, the fly grows in size till it is bigger and more powerful than the man. It attacks the man and destroys the territory he occupies. The man symbolically falls through space. The final shot shows the fly and the man putting their arms over each others shoulders. Hopefully they will coexist in peace. Ronald Holloway in Z is for Zagreb (1972, Tantivy Press, London) calls it Zagrebs most successful cartoon. (Available on The Best of Zagreb, a DVD from Image Entertainment.)

The Last Raid  Kumagaya by Renzo and Sayoko Kinoshita tells of a young girls attempt to survive WWII air raids in Japan. © Studio Lotus Inc.

The Last Raid Kumagaya by Renzo and Sayoko Kinoshita tells of a young girls attempt to survive WWII air raids in Japan. © Studio Lotus Inc.

After reading an early draft of this article, Sayoko Kinoshita (Peace Bird) wrote me that her film Pica Don (1979, made with her late husband Renzo Kinoshita) was the first animated film made in Japan to depict the atomic bomb. When they went to Hiroshima to research the project they were really criticized by the people of Hiroshima, because at that time, animation art/media was recognized only as entertainment for children, and people could not imagine and did not want their hardships to be described by animation. It was only after the completion of Pica Don that people understood the effectiveness of animation. She says the film inspired others to make films on the same theme. Pica Don is a 10-minute 35mm film that has no dialogue. It describes the tragic consequences of the A-bomb explosion.

In 1993, the couple completed The Last Air Raid Kumagaya, another powerful anti-war animated film. The 28-minute work tells the story of Sachiko, a 7-year-old girl who lost her parents in an air raid on Tokyo. For her safety, she goes to Kumagaya City near Tokyo to live with an uncle. On August 14, 1945, the night before the end of WWII, the last air raid in Japan hit Kumagaya. Sachiko was one of the many that passed away that night. The next day the survivors heard their emperor surrender.

One group of films that has been left out of this article is action/adventure films that use peace as a pretext for making war films. Making the world safe for democracy by destroying evil empires is not my idea of a peace message. Did you know, G.I. Joe is the code name for a highly trained special mission force whose main purpose is to defend human freedom and world peace? (Quote from

Karl Cohen teaches animation history at San Francisco State, is the author of Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators (McFarland, 1997), is president of ASIFA-SF and is a frequent contributor to Animation World Magazine. In 1984, he directed, shot, edited and did the effects for an anti-nuke film Speak Up! Uncle Sam is Hard of Hearing. This short includes an animated/special effects sequence and is distributed by Canyon Cinema.