The Nazi Donald Duck Cartoon That Was Banned in Russia

Donald Duck Nazi
Credit: Disney / Canva

Disney cartoons are no stranger to controversy. Whether we are talking about Song of the South, LGBTQ characters, or stereotypes depicted in older classics such as Dumbo or Peter Pan. When it comes to problematic characters and images, there seems to be no shortage in the Disney vault.

Disney 'Song of the South' controversy explained

Credit: Disney

But among the many feature films that have sparked debates, boycotts, and banning, there is another class of Disney works considered by some to be just as controversial.

The WWII Disney Shorts

During World War II, The Walt Disney Company played a crucial role in contributing to the war effort through a series of animated shorts. Walt Disney himself was dedicated to using the power of animation for both entertainment and propaganda to support the Allied forces.

Donald Gets Drafted Donald Duck

Credit: D23

During this period, Disney produced several other war-related shorts featuring classic characters such as Donald Duck. These cartoons were used to inform, inspire, and lift audiences’ spirits during a challenging period in global history.

Many of them used humor and satire to garner support for the war effort and encourage unity and patriotism.

disney actors full body scans

Credit: Disney

In addition, Disney also contributed to military training with films like Four Methods of Flush Riveting (1941) and Stop That Tank! (1942), which provided instructional content for wartime industries. These shorts demonstrated Disney’s versatility in using animation for entertainment and as an educational and propaganda tool.

The Controversial “Der Fuehrer’s Face” (1943)

One of the most famous wartime Disney shorts is Der Fuehrer’s Face, which starred Donald Duck. Released in 1943 during World War II, the cartoon is a satirical take on life under the Nazi regime.

Der Fuehrer's Poster

Credit: Disney

The story begins with Donald Duck experiencing a surreal nightmare in which he finds himself living in a nightmarish version of Nazi Germany. The cartoon cleverly uses exaggeration and parody to depict life’s oppressive and absurd aspects under totalitarian rule.

Throughout the short, Donald is forced to work in a munitions factory, performing repetitive and dehumanizing tasks.

As the cartoon progresses, Donald’s nightmare intensifies. The viewer is taken on a rollercoaster of comical and surreal scenarios that become more and more absurd. The level of humor is on par with many cartoons of that decade, including Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry.

The animation of the Disney short cleverly blends humor with poignant moments.

In addition, the short contains the title song, “Der Fuehrer’s Face.” This song was composed by Oliver Wallace and serves as both a musical centerpiece and a satirical commentary on the Nazi propaganda machine.

Donald Duck WW2

Credit: Disney

In the end, the nightmare is revealed to be a dream, and Donald wakes up to find himself in the United States. The cartoon concludes with Donald hugging a Statue of Liberty paperweight and expressing his love for living in the United States of America.

Donald Duck

Credit: D23

The film also won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1943.

Banned in Russia

The heavy dose of satire used in the short often causes many to judge it simply based on still images. To a casual observer, you can easily spot images of Donald in Nazi uniform, hundreds of swastikas, jokes about being the master race, and many “Heil Hitler!” salutes.

When taken out of context (as most things are nowadays), it’s easy to see how people misinterpret the intention of the short and be offended.

Enter…Russia and the Russian Ministry of Justice’s Federal List of Extremist Materials.

In 2010, there was a case that accused a local resident of “inciting hatred and enmity” for uploading “extremist” material—including the Disney short—to the internet.

The Walt Disney Company

Credit: Disney

The individual received a six-month suspended sentence. However, the Donald Duck cartoon was added to the Russian Ministry of Justice’s Federal List of Extremist Materials.

As such, that meant the cartoon was illegal to produce, store, or distribute in Russia.

The Russian list of banned materials was established in 2002 and contains over 3,700 items. It is mainly comprised of material that is religious, critical of the Russian government, and Nazi propaganda. And due to the case in 2010, the Donald Duck cartoon was part of the latter category.

Donald Duck Republican Debate

Credit: D23

This satirical approach to the film appeared to be lost on the Russian court.

After discovering the Donald Duck short had been added to the extremist materials list, RT explains, the case’s prosecutors “filed a cassation [sic] with the regional court explaining that the video is a classic Walt Disney cartoon made within the framework of an anti-Nazi propaganda campaign.”

It was further explained that the film wasn’t praising Nazism. It was, in fact, mocking the ideology.

The court ended up agreeing with this interpretation, and in 2016, the film was eventually removed from the list.

The Short’s Legacy

Although the cartoon isn’t banned in America (at least not currently…), it maintains a mixed legacy of sorts. As stated earlier, it is an Oscar-winning film and has been praised for its music.

In fact, the short’s song was released as a standalone single and was a major radio hit, according to Time magazine.

Furthermore, in 1994, it was voted Number 22 of “the 50 Greatest Cartoons” of all time by members of the animation field. It also goes by the alternative titles “A Nightmare in Nutziland” or “Donald Duck in Nutziland.”

Related: Donald Duck Has Entered the Republican Presidential Race

However, it is a film that Disney has tried to keep out of the public light. Although it does not promote Nazism, its safe to assume the company is not too happy with the problematic images of Donald Duck. They would want to avoid images of him with a swastika on his arm and saluting Hitler.

Disney parade disturbed

Credit: Disney

As such, Disney kept the film out of general circulation. Its first home release came in 2004 with the release of the third wave of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD sets. However, nowadays, it can be found online relatively quickly.

About Steven

Steven has a complicated relationship with Disney. As a child, he visited Walt Disney World every few years with his family. But he never understood why kids his age (and older) were so scared of Snow White or Alien Encounter. He is a former participant of the Disney College Program (left early…long story), and he also previously worked in Children’s publishing, where he adapted multiple Disney movies and TV shows. He has many controversial opinions about Disney…like having a positive view of Michael Eisner, believing Return of the Jedi is superior to The Empire Strikes Back, and that Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge should have never been built (at least not at Hollywood Studios). Every year for the past two decades, Steven has visited either Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Aulani or went on a Disney Cruise. He’s happy to share any and all knowledge of the Disney destinations (and he likes using parenthesis a lot…as well as ellipses…)

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