Monday, April 11, 2016

Victory Through Air Power (1943)

Director: H.C. Potter (live action sequences)

It is perhaps the most unusual and obscure Disney feature film ever produced. Many deep rooted Disney enthusiasts way have never even known it even existed. However this motion picture manifests more than ever Walt Disney’s influence on public and the country as Victory Through Air Power helped to guide the nation and its military powers into strategical train of thought that aided in its victory in World War II. As a propaganda piece the film would not see the light of day after the conclusion of the war, but remains a treasure within the studio’s vault that sadly receives little recognition despite its impact.

Victory Through Air Power is a Walt Disney produced propaganda feature that shares the history of airplanes and its growing importance in winning the current conflict of World War II. Inspired by aviation pioneer Alexander de Seversky’s book of the same title this feature film produces a visual representation of Seversky’s ideas on the centralization of an American air force and the development of a strategy of long range bombing to gain an advantage in the war. To lighten the feature rather underlining serious nature the film begins with a brief animated history of the still young technology of powered air flight from its day as a hobbyist infatuation of merely get off the ground to the record breaking feats of the early 1940s. From here we are introduced the decorated innovate minded aviator Seversky who proceeds to explain his strategies of air power. With the aid of Disney artists detailed, easy to understand animated illustrations help guide his vision for a US Air Force and the struggles of how war is fought in the 1940s. Ultimately the message of the feature is the development of the long range bomber strategy which would allow American forces to attack the enemies of the Japan and Germany from deep within their lines, leading to a crumbling of their structure form the inside and ultimate victory for the United States.

If you are looking for the usual colorful, whimsical, character-driven Walt Disney motion picture, Victory Through Air Power is the furthest thing from that. Produced on a tight budget with the highest of Disney quality, or at least as much as the studio could muster at that time, this feature is displayed in wonderful Technicolor with some of the very highest quality traditional animation of the period. Walt Disney’s vision to personally aid in the s\communication of Seversky’s ideas out within the greater consciousness is manifested in how influential this motion picture was for its time before disappearing from the sights of audiences for decades thereafter.

The story of the film begins shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. As American was drawn into the conflict the still new Walt Disney Studio in Burbank, CA would be greatly utilized by the US Army as office space and a base of operations as the surrounding San Fernando Valley was a major hub of the aviation industry during this innovative time. Despite Disney’s close proximity to armed forces personnel and his studio’s commissioned work to produce work by the armed forces for both informational and moral boosting material Walt remained looked down upon by the controlling offices that now occupied his beloved lot, not willing to listen to his own thoughts on wartime matters.

After reading Alexander de Seversky’s 1942 book “Victory Through Air Power” Walt Disney believed it important that Seversky’s ideas be heard, as it could help win the war on Hitler and Japan. With his own finances he put into production Victory Through Air Power as a means to reveal to the public Seversky’s words in a way that was both entertaining and easy to understand.  Feeling this film was of most importance at the time Walt had secretively set aside a team of his very best and most trusted animators to make the picture. This helped produce the picture at the quickest possible pace and avoided any issues with the many animators that had grown to distrust Walt due to a recent animators strike that caused great friction within the studio

To aid in making the Russian-born aviator more appealing and likable while clearly communicating his ideas Walt Disney hired an outside veteran, H.C. Potter, to direct the live action segments with Seversky. Despite being rather stiff, hobbled by a wooden leg, and his thick Russian accent Potter was able to capture a Seversky that moved and communicated in a welcoming and informal manner. Seversky strolls throughout a welcoming space that represents his office and talks in a manner that is more conversational and less like a lecture. Both Seversky and camera move smoothly and effortlessly to make these ever important and informative scenes to the film’s message be shared in a way that allows the audience to be engaged with this man and his thoughts.

Coupled with the usual Disney whimsy in the “History of Aviation” segment and the very serious, yet wonderfully done, strategic illustrations this film on a whole is very charming and wins you over with the main message. The picture concludes with a very up-with America moment as the United States represented by a majestic eagle slays an inky black octopus , representing the Axis, wrapping up the bow on this propaganda feature that is unmistakably pro-American and anti-Japanese and German.

When RKO, Disney’s distributor at that time, refused to release the picture Walt revisited the distributor of his 1930s cartoon in United Artists to release this feature. At the box office Victory Through Air Power barely made back Walt’s investment, but his message was now out there. Critics praised the quality, but struggled with the idea that a cartoonist was attempting to influence war strategies during a time of major conflict. Copies were sent to government leaders who were effected by its message, but it was not until Winston Churchill implored President Franklin D. Roosevelt to view the picture that picture saw its biggest impact. It was only after Roosevelt’s viewing that the military elected greater efforts to building a force for long range bombing.

After the conclusion of World War II Victory Through Air Power would no longer be a relevant motion picture, finding itself permanently shelved within the Disney film vault where it would never officially be screened again due to its politically incorrect propaganda material. Disney’s quality in entertaining as well as educating audiences with this picture helped to influence Disney’s niche with producing further education shorts for various companies, schools, and even government use long after the war.

Despite the feature film never playing to public audiences again the “History of Aviation” segment would be utilized as a stand-alone cartoon edited to play on television either in cartoon package shows or in a rare case on Disney’s weekly anthology series. For many years Walt Disney Production was known for sharing these types of quality animated shorts which both taught and well as entertained that was literally lapped up by greater audiences all over the world.

In 2004 Walt Disney Productions would pay tribute to their 1943 film by releasing it under the Walt Disney Treasure line of limited edition DVDs. Although Victory Through Air Power was not packaged to be the main focus of the limited release home video collection, it was a predominate feature within the series that paid tribute to Walt Disney’s works during the war effort. Through all this the picture remains largely unknown to general audiences due to history passing it by. However Victory Through Air Power remains a lasting reminder of how the power of motion pictures can influence world events, in this case changing how the US strategized in winning World War II.

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