This film is part of Free

Abu and the Poisoned Well

Hitler as a snake and Mussolini as a toad feature in this British propaganda cartoon made for distribution in the Middle East

Animation & Artists Moving Image 1943 8 mins


Ever seen a snake with a moustache? The Middle East was as much an ideological as a physical battleground in the Second World War. In the midst of the conflict Halas & Batchelor were commissioned by the British Government to make four cartoons featuring a young boy Abu and his mule. They were intended to demonstrate in simple visual terms that Britain was a stout friend and the Axis powers a pernicious evil.

The snake and the toad are easy to recognise for their real life counterparts of Hitler and Mussolini, but what on the surface is a simple childlike narrative obviously glosses over a complex reality. The poison is one of ideas that brainwashes Abu and others to fight against the British Tommy tank, although it also transforms them to gaunt skeletons for visual impact. Interestingly the films vary in how they handle the hero’s salvation. Here Abu is cured and inspired by the vision of a horseback Arab warrior. This character also appears in Abu’s Dungeon, which features no British intervention. In the other two films it is the British characters only who turn the tide. This government film is a public record, preserved and presented by the BFI National Archive on behalf of The National Archives, home to more than 1,000 years of British history.