THE BOOTLEG FILES: FAMILY PLANNING

BOOTLEG FILES 513: “Family Planning” (1968 educational cartoon produced by Disney).

LAST SEEN: The film is on YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: The Mouse Factory would prefer to forget about this cartoon.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not until Hell freezes over or Walt defrosts, whichever comes first.

Most people don’t associate contraceptives with Disney cartoon characters. After all, you can’t go to the Disney Store at your nearby mall and purchase a box of Minnie Mouse Birth Control Pills or Goofy Condoms. But back in the 1960s, some self-appointed social scientists felt that too many people in the Third World were making too many babies for the planet to support. In order to decrease the surplus population, these do-gooders called on Walt Disney to help discourage the those in non-white nations from reproducing.

Now, you may wonder, why would old Uncle Walt take time away from bashing Pamela Travers in order get involved in such a project? Well, it all boiled down to making money. In the early 1940s, the Disney operation found itself in a serious cash crunch: the commercial disappointments of “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia” coupled with World War II’s closure of the lucrative European market created a significant monetary shortfall for the studio. In an attempt to pump some quick cash into its system, Disney agreed to do propaganda films for U.S. and Canadian government agencies as well as industrial films for major corporations. Although the company managed to hit its financial stride in the 1950s, it didn’t forget the fast bucks it made with its for-hire assignments, and the company continued to produce non-theatrical shorts.

In the mid-1960s, the studio was contacted by the Population Council, a nonprofit created with Rockefeller money, to produce an educational short designed to encourage family planning practices around the world. Back in the day, many supposedly intelligent people warned about the disastrous potential for a population explosion in Latin America, Asia and Africa and how it would wreck the planet’s food and water supplies. The resulting short, titled “Family Planning,” offered a bizarre overview of why it was important for poor people in poor countries to limit the number of children they produced.

“Family Planning” opens in a theater, where Donald Duck is in charge of setting up props. Donald is not very good job at his job, and the film’s running gag has him losing his temper with his props, including an uncooperative easel, a tube of paint that empties its contents in his face, and a film screen that does not want to unfurl.

In between these bits of knockabout are serious stretches narrated by veteran cartoon voice performer Paul Frees. “The family of man is increasing at an astonishing rate,” Frees informs us, noting that a centuries-old system of checks-and-balances has become unhinged. What went wrong? It seems that previous vehicles that kept populations under control, such as disease and famine and unsanitary living conditions, were successfully eradicated. As a result, fewer people are dying – especially children and infants. But this presents a problem, Frees adds, because an excess number of children results in financial hardships and problems with maintaining an adequate food supply.

To illustrate this point, “Family Planning” offers the Disney concept of a typical Third World family. The father wears a strange mix of Andean and Ali Baba-style Arabian clothing, while the mother wears a sari. This couple lives in a one-room shack on a dirt farm, where the father plows a field with an ox while the mother washes clothing in a river. Frees’ narration speaks about how the family enjoys “comfort and modern conveniences,” which is depicted as a carpet on the floor of a furniture-free room and a transistor radio playing for the evening’s entertainment.

But, Frees states, that idyllic picture can only be maintained if the couple has three children. As they wind up with more kids, the conveniences vanish and the farming becomes more of a chore for the father. And poor Third World Mama looks like a wreck after banging out so many children.

So how can this problem be solved? “You can decide in advance the number of children you have,” Frees tells the astonished family, adding that “taking pills or using simple devices” will help keep the family unit at a manageable level. Donald Duck reinforces this by dressing as a doctor and pulling a large key out of a medical bag – the key to family planning that, according to Frees, is “easy and incredibly safe.”

During “Family Planning,” the father and mother converse with the narrator on the issues being raised. Or, to be more precise, the father (also voiced by Frees) does the conversing – the mother whispers her questions to her husband, who then passes it along to the narrator. This film reinforces the notion that Third World women weren’t expected to ask questions about their lives. But, at the end of the day, it is not her fault. “The real measure of a man,” Frees says, “is not how many children he can produce, but how well he can take care of them.” (Obviously, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was not a consultant on this film.)

But don’t think that family planning is something that only needs to occur in some distant country. “All of us have a responsibility toward the family of man – including you!” intones Frees as Donald points a feathery finger directly at the viewer.

“Family Planning” is intentionally vague on the exact strategies that could be employed, and it steers away from any religious or social taboos that would argue against such considerations. Thus, we never get to see Donald Duck wrestling with an intrauterine device (let alone a wire hanger), nor does the local parish priest or imam show up to question what is being preached here. One would assume that the exact details of this sticky business would be handled by whatever health agency or nongovernmental organization would be screening “Family Planning.”

Incredibly, this weird little film was still being marketed well into the late 1980s; one source claims that “Family Planning” was translated into 25 different languages. Most Americans never heard of the film until 1999, when news emerged that Disney charged the Chilean affiliate of Planned Parenthood with copyright violations for bootlegging the film for sale and for marketing an unrelated Planned Parenthood short as a Disney production. Over the years, some sources incorrectly stated that Disney made “Family Planning” for Planned Parenthood – though the idea of Walt Disney collaborating with Margaret Sanger is quite delicious, if only for the wrong reasons.

Disney no longer makes “Family Planning” available, and there is no official home entertainment version of the film. However, a private collector somehow obtained a print that has since become the subject of an unauthorized YouTube posting. Now, Disney addicts can thrill to watching Donald Duck’s crusade to help Third World farmers from making too many babies. In retrospect, it is a shame that Uncle Remus didn’t shuffle in from “Song of the South” to help in this endeavor. After all, everyone’s favorite plantation denizen could have happily informed his fellow people of color to zip up their doo-dahs and stay out of the Laughing Place.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!




Posted on January 3, 2014 in Bootleg Files, Features by
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