January 23, 1942 – The Donald Duck Wartime Propaganda Short Film The New Spirit is Delivered
“Oh boy! Taxes to beat the Axis!”
On January 23, 1942, the Donald Duck wartime propaganda film The New Spirit was delivered to the Treasury Department under the support of the War Activities Committee. It was directed by Wilfred Jackson and Ben Sharpsteen. This was the first propaganda film for the US Government by the studio since the country’s entry into World War II, and the Treasury Department hoped that Disney could provide a start of the new Revenue Act of 1942 and apply the funds directly to the war effort. The Department paid $40000 for the film, asking for a very short time frame to have the film ready no later than February 15. Although there was concern about using Donald Duck for the short film, Walt had argued that using Donald was similar to MGM using Clark Gable, and Department Secretary Morgenthau agreed. Donald was seen as a cathartic character for most Americans, and his anger and patriotism resonated with a public still reeling from Pearl Harbor.
While Morgenthau was excited about the film, Congress voted to eliminate the $80,000 appropriation the Treasury had submitted to pay for the film and its marketing, as many anti-Roosevelt members thought it was a waste of money and nearly marked Walt as a war profiteer. Fortunately for the studio, The New Spirit resonated with audiences, and was hailed by the media as “an excellent bit of persuasion,” as written by the Chicago Herald-American. A survey was conducted, and 37% of those that had seen the short said it had an effect on how willing they were to pay their taxes, with further members of the audience praising the film and criticizing Congress for its failure to pay the Studio. The New Spirit was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary at the 15th Academy Awards.
The song “Yankee Doodle Spirit” is playing on the radio, with Donald dancing to its patriotic rhythm. As he listens to the radio program, Donald quickly readies himself for the threat of war. The radio announcer declares that there is something Donald can do for the war effort, and Donald states he will do anything. When Donald hears that the best thing he can do is pay his income tax, at first he is dismayed. The announcer goes on to say that his income tax is vital to the war effort, as the taxes pay for supplies for the troops to beat the Axis Powers. A new simplified form is presented, which is really all that Donald will need, along with a pen, ink, and a blotter. Donald fills out the form, and finds that he owes $13 for his taxes. He is so excited to pay his taxes that he races across the country to Washington DC to pay them in person. The announcer continues with what the taxes will be used for: factories that will make the ammunition and weapons for the soldiers, planes, and battleships.