Victory Through Air Power (1943) fascinates me no end.
When I was growing up in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, this was the “lost” Disney feature (today Song Of The South might hold that honor). Nothing was written about it – nor could it be viewed (these were the days before DVD and VHS) – I don’t think it was ever offered on 16mm after the war and it certainly was never sold to TV or used (except for excerpts) on the Disneyland or Wonderful World of Color TV shows.Leonard Maltin wrote the first description, with details, images and commentary, that I ever saw – in his book The Disney Films (Crown 1973). And even he had to view the film by making special arrangements with the Library of Congress! (I recall this being one of the first questions I asked him when we initially met in January 1974).
My seeing the film, many years later, felt like putting the final piece into a giant jigsaw puzzle. The film answered many questions and initiated a few more. I continued to do private research into this feature and ultimately was given the honor of introducing a restored 35mm print of Victory Through Air Power at a screening in 2004 (just prior to its Disney Treasures DVD release) at the Motion Picture Academy. For this, I was allowed access to the Disney Archive – and spent some of that access examining the film’s press book and other publicity materials.
I was particularly fascinated with the fact that United Artists released the film (as opposed to RKO). This was truly an “independent” film. Disney spent his own (or the studio’s own) money to make it. He had to shop for another distributor to release it. It was an animated documentary – about an contemporary issue that instantly dated the project.
But much good came to the studio as a result of its production. For one, it stretched the abilities of the artists and animators (particularly the effects animators) to tackle visuals the studio had not needed to illustrate or animate before – mammoth explosions, military hardware, realistic human figures, etc. The presentation of material – using Major Seversky in an office, with maps, globes and other visual aids, addressing the camera – foreshadows the very format that Disney would use to host ABC’s Disneyland, Walt Disney Presents and NBC’s The Wonderful World of Color.
Along with other films produced for the military, Victory Through Air Power would usher in a new era of creating educational films for the general public; industrial films for commercial clients, and instructional films for classroom use.
But how was this film marketed to the public? All films going through the standard distribution channels go through a certain process – a process that yields a trailer, posters and publicity. Without the famous Disney characters or a classic story, it must have been a challenge. And apparently it was.
The good news – in addition to the “Walt Disney” name, the film had the advantage of being based on a best-selling book. It was touted as an important film “that must be seen”. The marketing for this film was clearly different. It had to be – we were in a new world. The War was on. The country had a new focus. This film introduced ‘a new Disney’. A relevant Disney. It pioneered another route, a new road for animation. As dire as our situation was, the optimism for victory is quite present in these posters. Propagandistic to be sure, the advertising art was serious, powerful and strong.
The Lobby Card set (above) – the one-sheet (below left) and the three sheet (below right):
That didn’t mean they couldn’t enlist the standard characters (Mickey, Donald, Pluto, Goofy, etc) to help promote the picture. In fact, I don’t think they could help it. Here are two panels from one of the Good Housekeeping magazine pages Disney used to promote his latest features and shorts. (Please buy David Gerstein’s Mickey and The Gang to see a few other examples of how the studio used Mickey and comic pages to tie-into the film.):
This leads me to these five stills I had in my collection for years… a series of cartoon images that might have been used in a magazine publicity spread. I haven’t seen these posted (or reprinted) anywhere… so I thought it would be a good idea to get them out there. I’m not the best at recognizing art styles of individual Disney artists, but these looks like Bill Justice to my untrained eye.