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
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population 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.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid