Victory through Air Power: The poster.


Original medium: Theatrical animation
Produced by: Disney
First Appeared: 1943
Creator: Alexander P. deSeversky
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The history of Disney's animated features isn't one of an unbroken stream of classics, from Snow White through whatever is the latest. No, there have been flops, both critical …

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… and financial (tho the latter have tended to recoup losses in later releases), and even some that have been virtually forgotten. Among the more poorly-remembered is The Black Cauldron (1985), based on Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, a rare non-musical, which consequently lacked memorable songs to remind viewers of its excellence (if any). More recently, Treasure Planet (2002), based on Robert Louis Stevenson's story Treasure Island but "kicked up a notch" by substituting a planet for a mere island, thus far seems to be suffering the same fate as Gilligan's Planet, based on the same idea (if "idea" isn't too strong a word), i.e., oblivion.

But those are both "post-Walt" Disney features, i.e., made after Disney's 1966 death. There is also a Disney feature, released less than a year after Bambi (1942) and a couple of years before The Three Caballeros (1945), which had virtually evaporated from America's consciousness by the time Cinderella (1950) went into production. Victory through Air Power, released July 17, 1943, was bald propaganda, produced less to entertain than to push a point of view. Deprived of its World War II context, it became meaningless, forgettable, virtually worthless as an exploitable property. It has never been re-released, or released even once overseas; and the DVD version is of interest only to antiquarians and Disney fanatics.

The movie came about because during the darkest days of World War II, Disney read and was greatly impressed by the book of that name, by Major Alexander P. de Seversky, advocating the use of air power to accomplish America's strategic war goals. Until that time, military commanders had found air power to be of tactical use, i.e., supporting the efforts of fighting men on the surface, but not quite so useful for taking care of the big stuff. de Seversky wrote and promoted the book primarily to get his ideas accepted by ordinary people, who would presumably pressure leaders into adopting them.

In the 14 months it took to produce Victory through Air Power (a remarkably short time, but then Disney had ordered a "rush" on it and was willing to accept work that wouldn't pass muster on a more timeless feature), the complexion of the war changed. When it was released, Americans were pretty sure of eventual victory, and it was harder to use fear as a motivator for them. And among military leaders, who tended to regard de Seversky with less respect than he might have liked, the idea of using air power strategically instead of tactically was still looked at askance. As propaganda, the film failed — in fact, even today, the idea of waging war entirely by air, with practically no reliance on "boots on the ground", isn't taken seriously by most military professionals.

Like The Reluctant Dragon before it and Song of the South after, Victory through Air Power was made up of animated and mostly-live segments. The meat of the film consisted of de Seversky lecturing the audience, to the animated accompaniment of an American eagle battling a Japanese octopus. But the lead-up to it was a lengthy animated segment, which covered the story of how air power came to be. Aviation pioneers such as The Wright Brothers were included, but points were illustrated with a couple of fictional characters, Pierre and Fritz. They did little skits representing various innovations adopted by aviators at different times. None had voices. Narration was provided by Art Baker, a face actor with no other cartoon roles.

Afterward, the opening sequence was released separately, as The History of Aviation. But the complete version of Victory through Air Power has become the most seldom-seen of all Disney features.


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Text ©2007-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © The Walt Disney Company.