Star Wars Episode XIII: Walt Disney / by Karina Longworth


Find this episode on iTunes

As the creator of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and, with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the inventor of the sophisticated feature-length animated film feature, Walt Disney changed Hollywood and brought millions of children and adults boundless joy. And yet, Disney’s legacy is marred by the common perception that he was also a racist, misogynist and anti-semite. In this episode, we will attempt to reconcile the Walt Disney who turned his studio over to the US government and military during World War II for the creation of training films and anti-Nazi propaganda, with the Walt Disney who repeatedly associated himself with anti-Semites and their causes, and whose prolonged battle with unions left him embittered and determined to rid Hollywood of what he perceived of as the scourge of communism.

Show notes:

Special thanks to our special guest, Mark Olsen, who played Walt Disney.

The starting point for this episode was the speech given by Meryl Streep at the National Board of Review awards dinner in January 2014, in which she detoured from a tribute to Saving Mister Banks star Emma Thompson to call out WaltDisney for being a “gender bigot” who “had some racist proclivities.” While some stepped up to defend Disney against these allegations (see particularly this post by Amid Amidi on Cartoon Brew), it felt as though the general reaction online ranged from unquestioning enthusiasm (Vanity Fair put the phrase "best speech ever" in the URL of their article) to unquestioning shrugs, as though Streep was merely saying out loud a truism that a lot of people thought was old news. At the same time, I knew that whatever he felt personally, Disney’s animation studio had been active in using their characters to drum up support for World War II and, particularly, distaste for Hitler and the Nazis. Then, shortly after Streep’s speech, in researching Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here for an essay I wrote for the film’s recent UK DVD release, I came across some information about Walt’s 1941 visit to South America in indirect support of what would soon be known as the Allied cause. Then, a couple of months ago, I came across a new book called Disney During World War II. Written by John Baxter and commissioned/published by Disney themselves, this book isn’t pure puff piece — it’s particularly critical of Walt’s interest in Victory Through Air Power — but it doesn’t go near the allegations articulated by Streep. I figured these different versions of who WaltDisney was and what he believed would be fertile territory for exploration.

This episode includes audio clips from Der Fuehrer's FaceThe New Spirit and The Three Caballeros.

Other sources:

WaltDisney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

In Defense of Walt: WaltDisney and Anti-Semitism

WaltDisney’s grandniece backs up Meryl Streep’s racism claims: ‘Anti-Semite? Check. Misogynist? OF COURSE!!!

The full text of Ayn Rand's Screen Guide for Americans


Life Round Here by James Blake

Air Hockey Saloon by Chris Zabriskie

I Want to Fall in Love on Snapchat by Chris Zabriskie

The Sorcerer's Apprentice, by Paul Dukas, performed by Leopold Stowkowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra

Intelligent Galaxy by The Insider

Private Hurricane by Josh Woodward

Readers! Do You Read? by Chris Zabriskie

Rite of Passage by Kevin MacLeod

Divider by Chris Zabriskie

Gymnopedie No. 3 by Eric Satie, performed by Kevin MacLeod

Money by Jahzzar

Undercover Vampire Policeman by Chris Zabriskie

Snow Drop by Kevin MacLeod

Passing Fields by Quantum Jazz

All of My Tears by Spiritualized

Something Against You by The Pixies