Mouse Goes To War!: The Ducktators (1942)

Hey guys, sorry for the missed update. Still up to my furry little armpits in other writing at the moment so I’m afraid the Snow White review is gonna have to be pushed back until next Thursday. By recompense, here is the next of the WW2 propaganda short reviews. Enjoy!

***

Studio: Warner Bros

Country of Origin: United States

First Screened: August 1, 1942

As I mentioned in my last series of short reviews, you can break down the history of the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies shorts into four eras roughly corresponding to the nineteen thirties, forties, fifties and sixties. Call them the Poor Man’s Disney, Wiseass Disney, Apex and Nadir eras, respectively. WW2 broke out in the middle of the Wiseass Disney era, where the studio had successfully reinvented itself as the sarcastic, irreverent joker to those squares in Burbank with their high falutin’ ideals of animation being art. While Disney were getting Deems Taylor to introduce abstract animation to the strains of Bach, Warner Bros were slouched in the corner smokin’ ceegars and yellin’ “Ah, yer muddah wears lederhosen!”. The Warner Bros shorts of this era are acclaimed by many fans as the greatest of the series but, with respect, those fans are liars and fools and once grown, their children shall change their names out of shame.

“Mouse, what did we agree?”

“Sigh. No telling people that their children will change their names out of shame just because they disagree with me on the respective merits of different eras of animated shorts in the Warner Bros filmography.”

“You lasted ONE DAY.”

Okay, that’s harsh. There are many fantastic cartoons from this era but, honestly, the shorts from the fifties (including but not limited to What’s Opera Doc, One Froggy Evening and the Hunter Trilogy) leave them in the dirt.

The shorts of the forties had a lot going for them, namely some of the finest animators, directors and voice talent to ever work in the medium, but compared to the later fifties shorts they’re sorely lacking in one thing.

Class.

To be blunt, there’s a nastiness to a lot of the Warner Bros shorts of this era, and not just because of the racism (although, jeez louise, it’s like they thought there was an Olympics for racism and they had their heart set on winning gold for their country). Propaganda is dirty business, but some cartoon studios came out a lot cleaner than others, if you catch my drift.

Of all the major American cartoon studios, Warners seemed to succumb to their worst instincts the easiest. Disney, Fleischer et al certainly produced cartoons in this era that make for uncomfortable viewing but Warner’s took it to another level.  For a good example, let’s take a look at the Ducktators.

The cartoon is a retelling of the rise of fascism in Europe as a farmyard allegory with farm animals standing in for all the major historical figures heeeeeey wait just a damn minute here!

Oh my God, Orwell you whore!

Two ducks nervously watch as their mysterious black egg starts to crack, releasing…Duck Hitler!

“Don’t leave me hangin!”

DH hatches from a black egg, buddies up with Goose Mussolini and Duck Tojo and they take over the farm before getting the snot beaten out of them by the dove of peace who represents the United States (oh mercy).

Is it funny? ‘Sok, I guess. Mel Blanc was physically incapable of doing bad voicework and he’s in fine form here. Some of the gags land and land hard but others are just weird. Like the moment where the black duck says “I’m from South Germany, boy!” but Blanc is clearly doing his Senator Claghorn impression (which would become, a few years later, his Foghorn Leghorn voice).  So…he’s black because he’s from the South which makes him sound like a…white…Southerner…the hell?

But it’s when the Japanese duck shows up that things go from “uncomfortable” to “what the fuck, Warners?”. This cartoon was directed by Norm McDonald who also directed the notorious Bugs Bunny short Tokio Jokio so my expectations were crawling on the ground all serpentine going in. But, holy shit.  I mean, I was expecting the buck teeth, thick glasses and the Engrish and all that. It’s the bit where the Japanese Duck flashes an “I am Chinese” badge and gets beaten up anyway that I find truly awful. In case you didn’t know, violence against Japanese Americans went through the roof after Pearl Harbour and Chinese Americans were often accidentally targeted. Many took to wearing “I am Chinese” badges to avoid catching a beating. So what the cartoon is basically saying is “Anyone who says he’s Chinese is probably just a sneaky Jap trying to pull the wool over yer eyes! Sock him good, fellahs!”

So, “fuck this cartoon” is what I’m saying, essentially.

All in all, while there’s some funny gags here and there, it’s at once too glib about the horrors of Nazism and too repellently racist in its own way to be worth recommending.

***

How’s the animation?: I’m honestly not a huge fan of the more rubbery style of the Looney Tunes of this era but it’s certainly not bad.

Art or Propaganda?:  Propaganda.

How does this rate on the Jingo-Meter?: Honestly, more “anti-Japanese” than “pro-American” but let’s say 3 Apple Pies served in a Baseball Glove out of 5.

What’s going on with the War?: In August 1942 the British launch Operation Pedastal to bring desperately needed supplies to Malta, in India Gandhi’s INC Party Headquarters is raided and the party is subsequently accused of collusion with the Japanese, Clark Gable enlists in the US Army as a private and future President Dwight Eisenhower is placed in command of Operation Torch.

Dude, is this racist?: Dude, this is so racist it’s actually dangerous.

Should I buy bonds? Let me spell it out for you: BUY BONDS.

29 comments

  1. Yeah, this one is pretty repellent. What’s especially galling is that the other two villains aren’t nearly as stereotyped (just their accents are mocked a bit), nor are they subjected to nearly the same level of violence.

    …Any particular reason the rabbit in the garbage pan was Jerry Colonna?

  2. This one sucked. Also I know it’s probably the least bad thing here but the history liking part of me is unreasonably annoyed that it shows Mussolini being inspired by Hitler instead of the other way around. Also it somewhat undermines the threat when everyone effortlessly beats the shit out of the baddies.

  3. WTH??? For one, it isn’t funny. Two, the story isn’t even remotely correct. I mean, yes, Hitler originally wanted to be a painter and there was a peace treaty which Germany later ignored, but if anything, Hitler was inspired by Mussolini, not the other way around and the Japanese…actually I have no idea whatsoever why the Japanese had a beef with the US. Odd, isn’t it? But they certainly weren’t inspired by Hitler either, they had their own thing going and just happened to be an ally (and now I really, really need to find the time to look up what exactly the US did to p… off the Japanese enough that they considered a better idea to fight against them instead of attacking targets closer to home.

    Otherwise, yes, the details are horrifying – I wouldn’t have gotten the detail with the Chinese badge, but in context…urgh. And what’s the meaning of the black Duck from the South? Is the cartoon trying to suggests that black people were somehow in league with Hitler, just to get a dig in to them, too, for good measures?

    And the oh so peaceful white dove for the US made me want to throw up.

    1. The Japanese and the US were both expanding in the Pacific and tge Japanese felt that war was inevitable. They struck Pearl Harbour to wipe out the US entire Pacific fleet and end the war before it began. By a fluke, most of the US aircraft carrier were on manouevers that day.

      1. Ah, thank you. (man, Germany was really saddled with a bunch of incompetent allies, was it? If only one of them had been as successful as the German military initially was, the war would have went very, very differently).

      2. The Japanese were quite competent tactically. They just had a tiny resource base relative to the US, vastly overambitious goals, and a command culture that boiled down to “can’t do it? BANZAI HARDER”. The Imperial Japanese Army and Navy (IJA and IJN) were, almost literally, at war with each other, and things were definitely not helped by a bizarre kind of command culture where disobeying orders was seen as laudable and heroic if it was done in the name of glorifying the Emperor–which led to junior officers dragging Japan into war with China by acts of insubordination that were subsequently lionized.

        And that was on top of the ass-whupping they got in the late 1930s when Japanese forces in Manchuria got into a fight with Soviet armored divisions in Siberia under Georgy Zhukov, who proceeded to stomp all over them and earn his first Hero of the Soviet Union award–meaning that Japan was, quite rationally, terrified of getting into a war with the USSR, thereby preventing it from opening a second front to help out their German allies.

        This page on the grim economic realities that faced Japan when it decided to go to war is invaluable reading. The chart on shipbuilding is certainly eye-opening: the US built more cargo ships in 1943 alone than the Japanese did in all four years of the Pacific War.

        http://www.combinedfleet.com/economic.htm

    2. The Japanese expansion reasons and plans against the U.S. were to take over American controlled Islands close to Japan like The Philippines, Guam, and Wake. Hawaii was also a target but more of a dream. Their plan for victory included The U.S. deciding islands closer to Asia than America would not be worth the further casualties and leave the area.

      1. See, I didn’t even knew that the US once controlled the Philippines…What the hell were they even doing there? One would think that they had enough territory already….

      2. Fair trade, historical definition: trade with a country able to defend itself militarily and thus able to insist on negotiating the terms.

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