Wednesday, December 8, 2010

150 Peace On Earth

Title: Peace on Earth
Studio: MGM
Date: 12/09/39
Credits: A Hugh Harman Production
Series: -
Running time (of viewed version): 8:48

Synopsis: Animals find comfort at Christmas now that all the people are dead.

Comments: An Academy Award nominee. It's obviously well timed with the outbreak of WWII, but it's not really all that good. It also apparently received a citation from the Nobel Prize jury ( ), which seems more likely than being "nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize", which has been the rumor. And a Parents Magazine medal. Soldiers animated under the title cel. Should the snow actually look yellow with a blue or green with a purple tail tail above it? Or was that unintentional? (Is that an effect from some live action chamber, by the way, or it it actually hand animated? I assume it's an effect.) Mother squirrel seems to simply disappear from behind grampa squirrel in the butt stabbing scene. Shadow scene. Apparently humanity ends when there's a war between vegetarians and meat eaters. Perhaps that seemed less likely to actually happen at the time. The owl when it reads "Thou Shalt Not Kill" he should say it says "I am going to eat you" to the little squirrel. And then he should eat him. The animals do wisely skip past "thou shalt have no other god before me". Lots of cross dissolves in this. This is frankly an unimpressive cartoon, other than its use of some dark imagery. It did not deserve a nomination for the Oscar (but then neither did the Ugly Duckling, The Pointer or Detouring America).

The below image is of the original art for the end title card, kindly provided by Mike Van Eaton of Van Eaton Galleries, where it is (or at the very least was) available for purchase.


  1. I always figured the owls were so full from feasting on all those dead human carcasses they didn't need to eat the squirrels...

  2. Well at least it had a happy ending.

  3. "Peace on Earth" is known as Hugh Harmon's masterwork. It is certainly a sumptuous production, with rich colors, plenty of mood lighting, and state-of-the art animation as far as MGM shorts in 1939 are concerned.

    Its animation of realistic moments, like the soldiers in the battlefield, is pretty effective. The rotoscoping in these scenes reminds me of some moments in Fleischer's "Gulliver" -- and also of the rotoscoped battle scenes in Bakshi's "Lord of the Rings," except this work is inked, not xeroxed.

    I suspect that Hugh Harmon and his crew felt they were capable of challenging Disney's artistic abilities, and wanted to prove it with "Peace on Earth."

    Thematically, the cartoon is ambitious, dealing literally with concepts of war and religion and the future of civilization. Pretty heady stuff for a cartoon starring squirrels and other woodland creatures.

    The problem, for me, is that it's not a lot of fun. I recall seeing it as a kid, and it was sort of a downer. Grandpa Squirrel is nice enough, but his story is less than upbeat for an audience of human kids.

    And, as we know just by viewing it, it's definitely a little stodgy, and certainly there's not a laugh in it, except for that thing you mentioned about Grandma disappearing from behind the chair. Where'd she go!? Did she duck down?

    You can almost feel the sense of self-importance in this cartoon, which probably doesn't help the viewing experience. But war was looming in 1939, so it may have felt like the right cartoon to make at the moment. In that historical context, I can find much to admire about the cartoon.

    I'd be interested in knowing what feature films it played with when it was released. "The Wizard of Oz," maybe? Counter programming to "Gone with the Wind" maybe?

  4. One of the films, according to an ad in the Chicago Tribune, was 'Another Thin Man.'

    Philip Scheuer wrote about 'Peace on Earth' in his Dec. 3, 1939 column in the L.A. Times. Then on Dec. 17, he praised 'Peace on Earth' while stating under "Heresy note" that "the Walt Disney shorts for the past year have not been what they ought to be."

    The Times wrote on March 12, 1945 that Harman was thinking of doing a feature version combining live action and animation, and "Harman is trying to interest Orson Welles in portraying the last man on earth before the animals take over".

  5. It also was shown with 'Judge Hardy and Son,' 'Maryland' with Walter Brennan (released by Fox), and I found another theatre which ran it with Gary Cooper's 'Real Glory,' released by U.A.

    By the way, the source of the Nobel claim could very well be Jimmy Fidler's column of Dec. 17, 1939. There's a squib which reads:

    "MGM is submitting its animated cartoon, "Peace on Earth," to the Nobel Peace Prize committee in Sweden as a bid for the 1939 award."

  6. No it's not very funny but then it doesn't try to be. There were a lot of people in 1939 who were sick at the idea that the world was lurching towards another global war and this really spoke to that. It's a standard antiwar fable, the kind of thing that would reappear in the 60's but with a nuclear destruction angle added.

    I remember watching this when I was little and the images of the soldiers in their gas masks always scared me a little. Watching it recently, I found I was still moved by the whole thing, despite the world, in reailty, taking a very differnt turn. None of Hugh Harman's MGM work was a laugh riot but there are cartoons like this one and "To Spring" that are still remarkable for their visual beauty.

  7. "The rotoscoping in these scenes reminds me of some moments in Fleischer's "Gulliver" "

    I agree; I just don't think that's a good thing.

    Technical feats may be impressive to people who contemplate trying to do the same thing, but while novelty may awe an audience for a time, such things are not perpetually entertaining to an audience simply because they were difficult to accomplish.

    1. Somehow I believe you beliefs bias you into disliking this cartoon...

  8. If you have an animated version of this cartoon, don't hesitate to post it on youtube! thanks!

  9. Yowp, thanks for the info about the feature films that ran with "Peace On Earth." You definitely have a great batch of resources! I'm repeatedly impressed with the depth of info that you access.

  10. Peace On Earth is presently commercially available on a cartoon compilation on DVD (the WBHE Academy Award winning and nominated cartoon collection). I would not post such a cartoon on YouTube. That being said, if you type the title into YouTube, the cartoon is on the first page of hits.

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. I've deleted a post railing against eating meat; if this had been an actual post from someone who reads the blog, I would not have done so, but it is a spam message which seems to have located the post by the term "Peace On Earth". You can see the spam if you google "Aren't humans amazing? They kill wildlife".

    I guess we know which banner they support.

    To stay more on point for this cartoon, I present the following link:

  13. Ted, the banner that the spammer against eating support is a real P[ain] i[n] t[he] A[ss][replace: "I" in "in" with the letter E :(]

    Mel Blanc plays the father squirrell, about a few years before WB signed him to an exclusive contract.


  14. Should the snow actually look yellow with a blue or green with a purple tail tail above it? Or was that unintentional? (Is that an effect from some live action chamber, by the way, or it it actually hand animated? I assume it's an effect.)

    I wondered if that had something to do with the Technicolor negatives perhaps being misaligned in the execution itself. it sorta felt like a mistake to me in the matting if the snow effect was superimposed or film in a second pass through the camera.

  15. Seeing this little toon at age 5 started a lifelong interest in gas-masks for me. Not as a fetish or anything, but it's effected the little action figure collecting hobby I have by always making me gravitate towards a character adorning one of those masks.