The New Spirit (Disney) reveals the astonishing fact that one of the world's most beloved cinema actors earns less than $50 a week. That miserable retainer not only has to support himself in the extravagant style to which Hollywood is accustomed, but also has to feed, clothe and house his three adopted nephews. This underpaid box-office paragon: Donald Duck.
Bachelor Duck has complained about a lot of things, but his salary ($2,501) is not one of them. Its revelation is pure patriotism on his part. His employer, Walt Disney (whose reputation is any thing but a pinchpenny's), was asked by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. to make a picture reminding U.S. citizens that millions of them are expected to pay an income tax for the first time this year.
The New Spirit, an eight-minute cartoon short, opens with the indignant Duck throbbing to a radio voice telling of the new spirit in the U.S. Exhorts the radio: "Your country needs you!" The pupils of Donald's eyes literally flag-wave as he implores the radio to tell him how he can help. Says the inexorable machine: "By paying your income tax."
Donald, at that, is fit to be tied. But the radio goes to work on him. "Taxes to beat the Axis!" it chants. When the Duck realizes what armament his money will buy, he can't wait for Tax Day. His pen, blotter, inkwell, account book go to work on his short-form income-tax blank (for incomes under $3,000). Donald finds he owes a $13 tax. He scurries all the way to Washington to get it in on time.
Although the cartoon does not make the new short-form blank crystal clear, it gets its propaganda across with the anesthetic blessing of laughter and great good humor. As cinema, The New Spirit is a most effective job. It has a brand-new patriotic melody, The Yankee Doodle Spirit (composed in one day by Oliver Wallace, who did the Dumbo tunes), which is a humdinger.
If Walt Disney has anything to say about it, U.S. World War II propaganda will be leavened with a humor and an artistry that were absent from World War I's. The New Spirit is his first U.S. Government film. Made in four weeks, it set a record for the studio, which usually takes six to eight months for a short.
Disney's facilities are now 75% given over to wartime production. His schedule: 20 cartoons for the Navy on airplane and warship identification; eleven more for the U.S. Treasury; 52 for the State Department, promoting Allied and Hemisphere solidarity; twelve for the Rockefeller Committee and its Hemisphere good-will program; one for the Department of Agriculture, publicizing Lend-Lease aid to the Allies; a recruiting short for the U.S. Merchant Marine; three more bond-selling shorts, and an Army anti-tank-rifle training film for Canada; a series of U.S. Army training films similar to the Navy's.
Sullivan's Travels (Paramount). Scenarist Preston Sturges, who became a cinema director two years ago, has successively and refreshingly satirized U.S. machine politics (The Great McGinty), advertising (Christmas in July), and the boy-meets-girl formula (The Lady Eve). He now aims his brisk sarcasm at the moviemakers themselves.