The film is based on a book by Alexander P. de Seversky, who also appears in the film in several lecture segments. Seversky, a former flyer in the Russian military before becoming an American, believed that the key to allied victory was committing to utilizing long-range aircraft for bombing. His book apparently convinced Walt Disney of the same. Determined to get this message out to a wider audience, Disney rushed this film into production. At this particular time, the Walt Disney Studio was devoted almost entirely to producing propaganda and instructional films to assist with the war effort.
The beginning of the film features a sequence often referred to as “The History of Aviation.” This is the only sequence of the film that was released by Disney up until the release of the full film on DVD in 2004. This sequence is the most like the traditional Disney-style animation we are used to. It covers the still young history of aviation from the Wright Brothers up to the present day…1943. It features a healthy dose of humor, which is quite welcome here considering how serious the rest of the film is.
From there, the film intercuts between Seversky’s lecture and animated segments which demonstrate how his ideas would have an impact against both Hitler and his march across Europe and the Japanese Empire’s conquest of the Pacific. The images of dogfighting planes, torpedoed ships, and massive explosions are like nothing you’ve seen in any Disney film. Even more disturbing is the dark, menacing use of Nazi imagery. It’s almost 70 years later and we know the Nazis were defeated, yet the images are still quite haunting. The most striking images come at the close of the film in a sequence that portrays an Eagle (representing America) battling an Octopus (representing the empire of Japan). The scene is a unique and violent example of the artistic skills that the Disney artists possessed. Ultimately, I suppose creating images that would stick with the viewer was the whole point. Many of these sequencse do utilize what some would call “limited-animation,” where only certain elements of the art are actually animated. However, the images are so masterfully created, this doesn’t detract from their effectiveness in the least.
Saying that a good portion of the film is devoted to “lectures” may give you an idea that the film is boring. Nothing could be further from the truth. Seversky seems quite at home on camera…despite his strong accent and his struggle to conceal his limp (he had one wooden leg). Disney hired director HC Potter (Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream Home) to handle the Seversky segments. This move paid off as the sequences are quite never boring and actually quite creative. The fact that Potter had been a pilot himself no doubt helped him find ways of presenting the material in a way that would be interesting for the average filmgoer.
Critics were not necessarily kind to the film at the time of it’s release, but apparently the film did what it was created to do. Supposedly both Winston Churchill and FDR began to see the importance of Seversky’s ideas after viewing the film. Today, “Victory Through Air Power” is an important film. Most likely, we will never see a movie like this made by a major Hollywood studio again.