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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