Drawing Benefits: The USIA’s Space Race Message and the Animators Who Brought It to Life

It’s time for us to return to one of our favorite topics—Cartoons! And not just any cartoons, but the animation produced for the United States Information Agency (USIA). You may already have joined us for our exploration of anti-Communist Mexican cartoons, animation and animatics by the “Walt Disney” of Thailand, or this psychedelic symbolic history of the United States. This time we will look at And Of Course You, a 1968 film about the global benefits of the Apollo space program. We’ll also introduce you to the prolific animators behind the film.

During the Space Race of the 1950s and 60s, the United States and the Soviet Union were not just competing to gain the upper hand beyond the upper atmosphere. They were also competing to capture international public opinion. An ambitious space program is very expensive, with the estimated cost of the United States’ successful Apollo program ranging between $164 to $181 Billion (adjusted for inflation). It was also easy to see that the rockets and other technology developed for space exploration could have military applications. The USIA’s approach to messaging about the U.S. space program was similar to the government’s messaging about its nuclear program—Focus on the benefits for all mankind!

This clip from “And Of Course You” highlights the international benefits to be gained from newly-launched weather satellites.

And Of Course You (Local ID: 306.8083) is a perfect example of this strategy. Using whimsical animation, the film demonstrates how the different technologies advanced by the U.S. space program will have specific and concrete benefits in fields such as medicine, agriculture, communications, and energy. The film consists of a conversation between the two main characters—abstracted humans who can transform into rockets and play with the Earth like a ball.  Some of the benefits described, such as satellites for communication and weather forecasting, were already making a difference in the 1960s. Others, like telemedicine and remote learning, have only become ubiquitous more recently. There is also an emphasis on how scientific knowledge and equipment is shared by the United States with over 80 countries through cooperative agreements.

The USIA contracted with Murakami-Wolf Films to make this film. The company, helmed by Jimmy T. Murakami and Fred Wolf, was an animation studio that largely produced content for hire. (You may be familiar with their long-running “Mr. Owl” Tootsie Pop commercial.) Murakami-Wolf also made animated short films like The Magic Pear Tree, which received an Oscar nomination. The company was able to bring all its creativity and artistry to the production of And of Course You.

Wolf and Murakami each also had fascinating careers on their own. Early in his career Wolf worked on Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintstones and was an animator for the theatrical film Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear! Later he created The Wuzzles for Disney and worked as a supervising producer for the first season of Duck Tales.

As a child during World War II, the U.S. government incarcerated Murakami and his Japanese American family at the Tule Lake War Relocation Center. In a video interview for the Nikkei Legacy Project, Murakami told the story of seeing his first animated film there. The interview also touches on some of the animation work he later did for the USIA.

As an animator, Murakami traveled and worked around the world, with some of his best-known films being the British classics The Snowman and When the Wind Blows. He ultimately settled in Dublin, Ireland, where he is regarded as “a founding father of Irish Animation.” There he eventually reunited with his former partner to establish Murakami Wolf Dublin, which produced episodes for the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series.

The USIA’s animated films are rarely more than a few degrees of separation away from some of the wonderful movies, television shows, and even commercials that viewers around the world know and love. I’m sure we will be back with more stories about these animated treasures!