Neuroscience and Propaganda Come Together in Disney’s World War II Film, Reason and Emotion

Last Friday, we posted Saul Bass’ Why Man Creates. For another short film which drew Academy recognition by using animation to illuminate basic human impulses, you could do worse than Disney’s Reason and Emotion. Just as Bass’ picture, a product of 1968, bears the mark of that era’s ascendant free-your-mind counterculture, Disney’s picture reflects the concerns of 1943 America. Mankind has always and probably will always struggle with the conflicts between what we consider our rational minds and what we consider our emotional impulses, but at that particular time and in that particular nation, mankind found itself even more concerned with the conflict between the Axis and the Allies. Understanding how persuasive a message they could send by uniting the current with the eternal, Disney’s wartime propaganda came up with this eight-minute comedic illustration of how our reason and emotion coexist, what an ideal balance between them looks like, and why you, a good American, should hold your emotion in check. “That’s right, emotion,” insists the narrator, “go ahead, put reason out of the way. That’s great, fine — for Hitler.”

Enlightened 21st-century viewers will find plenty of the stiff, the square, and the stereotypical to object to here. Venturing inside the head of an average American man, the film sees a sober, bespectacled embodiment of Reason at the steering wheel. Behind him sits the jittery, club-swinging caveman Emotion. When our man spies a “classy dish” on the sidewalk, Emotion wrests control from Reason, but succeeds only in getting their humanoid vehicle slapped.

We then enter the mind of the slapper to find Reason’s female equivalent, a synthesis of all characters ever named “Prudence,” at the wheel. Back-seat driving is a rotund, excitable, (relatively) skimpily dressed Emotion. Reason believes she has done justice with the slap, but Emotion argues, “He was cute! You wanna be an old maid?” She then proposes an eating binge, while Reason looks on in horror at their control room’s rapidly ballooning, sagging, “CHIN,” PROFILE,” and “FIGURE” charts.

Yet in its old-fashioned, supercilious, and simplistic way, Reason and Emotion looks frankly at the challenges we all face on a regular basis when deciding, whether we be male or female, what to do, which foods to eat, and whom to try to meet. Research on what our centers of reason and emotion actually are and how they determine our choices has risen to the height of neuroscientific fashion, and as for the film’s indictment of the Third Reich as a vast emotion-manipulation machine, the unsettling but substantial field of dictatorial mind control in all its forms has accumulated its own enormous body of academic study. We’ve grown just a little smarter about reason and emotion, war and peace, and men and women in the past 69 years, which makes Reason and Emotion a richer and more fascinating watch now than it would have been then. The film has been added to the Animation section of our collection of Free Movies Online.

Find more Disney Propaganda Films Here:

The Making of a Nazi: Disney’s 1943 Animated Short

Donald Duck’s Bad Nazi Dream (1942)

Donald Duck Wants You to Pay Your Taxes (1943)

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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  • Grecia says:

    Indeed a very lonely place when you feel like that in this day and age peploe often make the remark I’m depressed , which is kind of an insult to those who are actually living with this state of mind.Totally agree with BG, glad you have made it through such a difficult period where the only real person who can help you is you glad I’ve had the pleasure of reading your posts Hope all is well.

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