Friday, March 18, 2011

Disney's Hollywood Studios and the Second World War

Disney’s Hollywood Studios offers a great variety of entertainment for the Disney Guest, ranging from thrills and chills (Tower of Terror) to musical shows (Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage). As would be expected from the park’s title, there are plenty of attractions highlighting the elements of show business and movie making. In this context, we examine closely the opening sequence of the Backlot Tour, featuring a water tank set for controlled filming of scenes set on water. The fictional World War II movie is “Harbor Attack” and the set features a recreation of a PT boat as well as an interior of the ship’s engine room. Guests are chosen to recreate the roles of sailors, and of course get quite wet. A close inspection of the PT boat reveals an interesting emblem of a mosquito carrying a torpedo. This image is no accident; it’s a deliberate nod to the role that the Walt Disney Studios played during World War II.

The Walt Disney Company was entering the nascent era of feature animation when the war temporarily shuttered the studio operations. Many animators joined the armed forces, and the U.S. military briefly commandeered the studio itself. Before and during America’s involvement in the war, the Disney company was involved with the military with logo design, dating back to 1939. In 1940, the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C, led by Lieutenant Earl S. Caldwell, requested from Walt Disney an insignia for America’s fleet of torpedo boats. Disney artist Hank Porter conceived of the emblem – an angry mosquito flying over rough water, carrying a torpedo seemingly to be dropped at will.

This wasn’t the first insignia that Disney created for the military, but given its role with PT boats, it’s only fitting that it be on prominent display at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

(images courtesy of Eric Steinmetz)

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