News / USA

Film Explores Mickey Mouse Diplomacy

Disney cartoon animators helped combat Nazi propaganda on the brink of World War II

On August 17, 1941 Walt Disney, his wife Lillian, and colleagues step off the plane in Rio de Janeiro to begin a nine-week trip through Latin American countries.
On August 17, 1941 Walt Disney, his wife Lillian, and colleagues step off the plane in Rio de Janeiro to begin a nine-week trip through Latin American countries.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

In 1941, celebrated animator Walt Disney went on a diplomatic mission to Latin America. The creator of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck became a good will ambassador. The U.S. had not yet joined its allies in war, but feared growing Nazi and Fascist influence in the Americas.

President Franklin Roosevelt had created a Good Neighbor Policy to improve relations in the hemisphere and Disney was asked to serve his country. Faced with a troubling animator's strike and the worldwide economic depression, Disney accepted the offer. "We were back to owing the bank $4.5 million. I just closed my feature production. That was all I could do."

Diplomats with sketchpads

In August of that year Disney and his team of artists, writers and composers set out on a 10-week journey to the region. Filmmaker Ted Thomas recreates the trip in the documentary, "Walt and El Grupo [the Group]."

Thomas says the 39-year old Disney was "energetic and charismatic. He met with artists and heads of state and he was seemingly up for whatever situation he was in. He was on-call from dawn until way past midnight every day."

Disney was already well known in Latin America and was treated as a hero. His team impressed their hosts wherever they went. And the American animators were inspired by new ideas, Latin American tunes and characters like the cigar-smoking Brazilian parrot Joe Carioca, who debuts in the 1942 animated live-action Disney travelogue called "Saludos Amigos," which was nominated for three Academy Awards that year.

According to Thomas, animator and illustrator Mary Blair was charmed by what she saw. "Before she went she was a very fine water colorist. This trip was a catalyst that changed her style completely. She had a different sense of color pallet, design and she became not only one of the top inspirational artists at Disney, but overall in the United States."

Walt Disney in full gaucho dress at an event hosted by the Cartoonists Association of Argentina.
Walt Disney in full gaucho dress at an event hosted by the Cartoonists Association of Argentina.

El Grupo

"Walt and El Grupo" explores a diplomatic mission of artists with sketchpads. Thomas says Disney and his team set in motion what Washington had hoped for: goodwill toward the United States. "Art has profound power in a beneficial way and can transform how we feel about each other. The most important step in getting to know each other is to start a dialogue and art and music can do that often that words cannot."

Those words mean something to senior animation student Sidney Marra, who attended a recent screening of the documentary at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland. "It wasn't like his artwork was propaganda. It was more sending out a positive message, instead of trying to be against others. It was trying to unify others. That's what I want to do with my artwork. I want it to be a universal feeling among everybody."

Fellow animation student Tyler Naugle agrees. He says that take-away message for him from the film is an appreciation for place. "You really have to appreciate the environment that you're in, and be constantly observing it and appreciating it because that's where you get all your ideas."

Thomas hopes his documentary, which uses archival photos, letters, sketchbooks and home movies, will introduce film-goers to a unique cultural exchange that helped develop both political goodwill and creative talent.

"Walt and El Grupo" has played in theaters, museums, and film festivals across the United States. Its November 29 commercial release on DVD includes a bonus - the original 1942 animated live-action cartoon "Saludos Amigos."

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid