Poster

The New Spirit

A Wartime Short

Release Date : January 23, 1942

Running Time : 7:23

Synopsis

Donald is taught the importance of paying his income taxes willingly and promptly.

Characters

Donald Duck

Credits

Asst. Director
Lou Debney
Animation
Edwin Aardal

DVD

United States
Disney Treasures : On the Front Lines

Technical Specification

Color Type: Technicolor
Animation Type: Standard animation
Sound Mix: Mono
Aspect Ratio: 1.37 : 1
Negative Format: 35mm
Print Format: 35mm
Cinematographic Process: Spherical
Original Language: English

Comments

  • Made for the US Treasury Department and distributed by the War Activities Committee of the Motion Pictures Industry in an effort to get people to pay their income taxes to promote the war effort. The government, in the person of the Secretary of the treasury balked at having Donald Duck in the film until Disney assured them that Them giving them Donald was comparable to MGM giving them Clark Gable.

From Ryan Kilpatrick at The Disney Film Project : In January of 1942, the Disney Studio was primarily engaged in the efforts of the US government to help with the war effort. There were regular films being churned out, but from the Good Neighbor project that would consume a great deal of time to the propaganda shorts and later feature projects, Disney would become a wartime factory.

In that sense, it’s kind of amusing to watch The New Spirit, as its themes could be seen as prophetic for the studio as a whole in the coming years. The short is primarily about encouraging the patriotic Americans who wanted to contribute to the war effort to pay their taxes. To do this, Disney used their most relevant spokesperson at the time – Donald Duck.

This choice works like a charm, because of all the Disney characters, Donald is the most likely to try and withhold his income tax, when you think about it. During the short, Donald gets all fired up by the voice on the radio urging him to do his patriotic duty. It’s a trick used before in Donald shorts, such as Donald’s Better Self, to make it seem like the radio is talking directly to him.

Donald’s enthusiasm reaches a fever pitch until he’s told that his duty is to pay his income taxes. At that point he loses interest pretty quickly, only to regain it twice as fast. Remember, the point of this short is to get others interested in doing their taxes, so it doesn’t serve any purpose to have Donald hold out too long.

From there, the short goes somewhat surreal, as a talking inkwell, account book and pen help Donald fill out his tax form. We even get to see Donald look up his income on a tax bracket document. That is almost normal, though, compared to the next thing that happens.

After Donald sprints across the country to Washington to submit his tax check, the short moves into direct propaganda, showing how taxes help to build the war machine. Taxes help build guns, guns and more guns, battle ships, airplanes and much, much more. The imagery is brutal – shots of sinking Japanese ships, burned Nazi aircraft, and tanks and guns marching over the horizon to a rising American theme.

Being wartime, this is not surprising, but it is somewhat strange outside of that context. You would never see a cartoon today with imagery of Al Qaeda hideouts being burned or shot. At least not a cartoon that didn’t air on HBO. It shows how powerful the Disney cartoons were, not for kids, but for adults. It also shows that there is a stark difference in how the nation handled Pearl Harbor and how it handled 9/11. Politics aside, there is an interesting dynamic at play there.


From Jerry Edwards : Donald is encouraged by a radio bulletin to pay his income tax promptly to support the war effort. Using wartime propaganda and Disney humor, the public is encouraged to pay their income tax with a minimum of grumbling. Instead of mailing his money in, Donald is shown eagerly running across country from California to Washington, D.C. to deliver his tax payment in person. The animation then shifts to less humorous, more warlike images. A Japanese battleship with the Rising Sun painted on its side explodes, and this Rising Run slowly sinks beneath the ocean to the strains of Beethoven's Fifth. A Nazi submarine is also blown up, and the film cuts to a closeup of the Nazi flag being flushed away in a vortex of dark, swirling water. Allied aircraft and tanks are shown destroying a huge Nazi war machine monster. The final shot of the short reveals a watercolor wash sky of multicolored clouds that form the U.S. flag.

This short is nicely done, considering Disney was given a very short lead time to complete it. I especially enjoy the "humanizing" of the ink pen and other writing accessories - which contribute to the humor of the short.

It always bothered me how Walt Disney was treated as a result of this short. Walt was not paid in advance for the costs of making the short, so the Treasury Department had to go to Congress to get the money. Due to some scandals during that time due to inappropriate Congressional appropriations, Walt was labeled a war profiteer for being expected to be paid for the film. Walt was actually going to lose money on the short even after being paid. Plus Disney lost theater rental revenue because the theaters would pull other Disney cartoons when showing this short.


From Ryan : This propaganda short had more entertainment value than All Together. I enjoyed the scene where Donald goes all the way to Washington, D.C. to mail his income tax instead of just mailing it at the mailbox.
From Baruch Weiss : This sure was a great way to encourage Americans to pay their taxes on time even though Donald did not want to do it at first, but then the announcer on the radio won him over. That was probably based on how the Government in the person of the Secretary of State did not want to use Donald as the Average citizen, but Walt won him over. I think this was good because it made the cartoon better.

Referenced Comments