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Disney During World War II: How the Walt Disney Studio Contributed to Victory in the War    by John Baxter order for
Disney During World War II
by John Baxter
Order:  USA  Can
Disney, 2014 (2014)
* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

At the outset of World War II Walt Disney placed his famed studio at the disposal of the U.S. government to assist the war effort in any way it could. Disney During World War II: How the Walt Disney Studio Contributed to Victory in the War by John Baxter tells the little known story of how the entertainment complex did its part to ensure an Allied Victory in both Europe and the Pacific.

Divided into five chapters, the book looks at the training films the studio produced, propaganda, entertainment shorts, military insignia and a feature film dubbed Gremlins that was never released.

At the beginning of the war Disney Studios was recovering from a bitter animator's strike and a series of box office flops. Walt Disney was in no position to 'give away his services', yet after Pearl Harbor he began making training films for the U.S. Navy. He vowed to not make a profit and just charge what the films actually cost to produce.

The studio also engaged in producing a series of propaganda shorts for the U.S. government, as well as morale-building posters. A special department at the film studio offered to create, free of charge, insignia designs for many Allied military units.

Disney also took part in variety shows during the conflict at area hospitals for wounded soldiers, and hosted dances for locally stationed servicemen. Although many of his employees received military exceptions during the war, about a quarter of the total studio work force did serve in the military as well.

Although the film was ultimately scrapped, the chapter on Gremlins is quite interesting. A collaboration between Walt Disney and Roald Dahl, this feature length film was about a group of mythical creatures that sabotage military aircraft. The art from the project was saved and some of it is featured in this account.

As Baxter explains in the book's Epilogue, 'There is no way to gauge the full impact of Disney's home front contributions to the war effort'. That being said, the Army and Navy relied heavily on the studio for training films, and Disney assisted both the U.S. and Canadian governments in selling war savings bonds. Also, over 1,300 Allied military units received coveted Disney designed insignia.

'Walt and his staff could look back on the war years with genuine pride,' writes Baxter. 'Knowing that they had worked as hard as any home front factory, and that their largely anonymous contributions, though impossible to measure, really did make a difference.'

Well illustrated, this engrossing history of Disney's role in the war will appeal to not only movie buffs but also those interested in World War II history. It would make an excellent Christmas gift for that book collector on your holiday shopping list.

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