Disney Takes Us To School: Menstruation & V.D. Films
Remember that day in school when all the girls were marched into one room, and the boys into another to watch special "so I guess you're growing up now" films? Happened a couple times to me. While the girls were off watching a film on menstruation (which most of them had conquered by then), we boys were subjected to a hopelessly outdated film with way too many naked men having a way too frank discussion in a gym shower room (no, it wasn't THAT kind of movie).
Later I remember all of us seeing a filmstrip in health class that discussed venereal disease. As the accompanying cassette bleeped off the first few frames, my eyes locked on the large "Walt Disney" logo. I couldn't help but point to the screen and say, "I'll bet that Mickey gave a dose to Minnie... that dirty rat..."
I miraculously did not serve detention that day.
We've got the original film here, but the film strip is what I remember. The movie doesn't depict those lovable Disney characters and their orgiastic troubles, as I'd hoped. Rather they portayed the various V.D. attackers as columns of lumpy, germy, soldiers. The general (is that Keenan Wynn's voice?) issues orders to his boys, outlining the plan of attack.
The animation isn't exactly what you might expect from the Disney studios. The film uses the "limited animation" technique as a way to save time and money in production. It was the early 70s, after all, and animators were using these kinds of shortcuts even in the features.
Having watched "VD Attack" again recently, I found it offered a good discussion of a vitally important issue. Sometimes educational films get so caught up in being entertaining, it undermines the message. Except for the great big Disney logo at the start of the film that got us all laughing, the film made an impact even on a group of unruly high school students, and at least one smart mouth (yes, I can still quote lines from that one viewing decades ago).
Disney's role in educational films dates back to the 1940s when the studio was in some financial trouble. "Fantasia" had been a spectacularly expensive project that ultimately failed at the box office. WWII left Disney unable to screen product in other countries, cutting off a vital source of revenue. Starting in 1945, Walt took in outside work for the armed services as well as the creation of a series of corporate sponsored films for the American public school system.
"The Story of Menstruation" was paid for by the company we know now as Kimberly Clark - makers of Kotex products - and for ten minutes prepares girls for the changes that are to come (though the film does not demonstrate the actual use of Kotex products - that awkward talk is still reserved for mom). A consulting gynecologist ensured that the film concentrated more on biology than marketing. This was one of the first commercially sponsored film distributed to high schools, and even earned the Good Housekeeping Seal. The information is very good, the serious matronly voice over isn't too stern or too trivial, and the film is a showcase of how animation is a great way to explain complex and sensitive concepts. The music sounds a bit maudlin and syrupy, but that's not uncommon in movies of the time. After the film, the girls received booklets called "Very Personally Yours" with built-in marketing of Kotex products - all with no mention of the use of tampons; the product of rival Tampax.
There's really not much to snicker at in most of the film (though the baby girl at the start of the film sure wears a lot of lipstick). The film offers a rational explaination that's thorough enough to answer a lot of important questions, and the narrator has just enough professional disinterest to not incite panic. However, around the six minute mark, things get a little strange. Asking girls to keep track of their periods on a calendar is fine (I guess?), but referring to it as "past performance" doesn't just make me feel weird, right? Kewpie doll women clean house by sending a chair smashing through the floorboards, and also ride a horse so vigorously as to shatter its spine. At 7:30 the narrator admonishes "don't let it get you down... after all, no matter how you feel, you have to live with people".
I felt sort of encouraged that even though this movie is over 60 years old, the core facts do connect. The film is as frank as it needs to be without being scary. No matter what else you've heard (or perhaps experienced), just remember the narrator's reassurance that “There is nothing strange or mysterious about menstruation.”
Both films have fallen into the public domain. Disney doesn't tend to lay claim to these educational titles very often. Educating young people is important, but I suppose if you can't make a ride out of it at Disneyland...