As Disney heads full-throttle into the streaming wars, the studio’s participation in another conflict is set to be honored. Next May, an exhibition titled “The Walt Disney Studios and World War II” will open at San Francisco’s Walt Disney Family Museum (which, as it happens, is housed on the grounds of a former U.S. military fort).

The exhibition is being pitched as “a remembrance of The Walt Disney Studios’ extensive contributions to the Allies’ World War II effort.” The official description runs as follows:

With the Disney studio lot in Burbank requisitioned as an Army anti-aircraft base after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Walt and his staff pledged to support the war effort without hesitation, devoting over 90% of their wartime output to producing training, propaganda, entertainment, and public-service films, while also designing an extensive collection of insignia and print media. This original exhibition includes rarely-seen artwork, film clips, photos, literature, and other historical objects and ephemera from this unique period in animation history.

Masquer’s Servicemen’s Morale Corps program card drawn by Hank Porter, 1944.
Masquer’s Servicemen’s Morale Corps program card drawn by Hank Porter, 1944.

The exhibition is timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the war’s end. Disney’s contributions to the conflict were certainly significant: they dominated production at the studio for years, and some of the resulting films were widely seen. The short film Der Fuehrer’s Face, in which Donald Duck dreams of being forced to work for a Nazi munitions factory, won an Oscar. Yet the war remains a problematic chapter in Disney’s history. For instance, there’s currently no indication that the studio will include its propaganda films on its new streaming service Disney+.

We’re curious to see exactly how Disney will present this subject in the exhibition — in the past, official and unofficial histories have described this period in quite different ways.

“The Walt Disney Studios and World War II” runs from May 13, 2020 to January 11, 2021. For more information, head to the exhibition’s official web page.

(Image at top: Disney Studio Artist, 2nd Reconnaissance Squadron, Fresno, California; Dumbo insignia, c. 1940s; Courtesy of Kent Ramsey. © Disney)

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Alex Dudok de Wit

Alex Dudok de Wit

Alex Dudok de Wit is Associate Editor of Cartoon Brew.

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