Monday, December 31, 2007

Overlooked Movie: The Reluctant Dragon

"I'd rather entertain and hope that people learn, than teach and hope that people are entertained." ~Walt Disney

Humorist Robert Benchley visits the Disney Studios to sell Walt on the idea of animating the story of The Reluctant Dragon. While evading an officious young studio guide, Benchley stumbles into various studio activities and departments, including an art class, a sound effects session, the multiplane camera studio (at which point he notices the film has switched to Technicolor), the paint lab, a storyboard session for the "Baby Weems" segment, a movieola screening of the Goofy cartoon "How to Ride a Horse", and finally catches up with Walt in a screening room just as he's previewing the studio's latest film... The Reluctant Dragon!

Fun Trivia:
The film's live action star Robert Benchley was the grandfather of Jaws author Peter Benchley.

The film features the first of the Goofy "How-to" cartoons; "How to Ride a Horse". John McLeish was brought in to record the narration, and asked to read it in a very straightforward manner, as if for a serious documentary about horse riding. He was shocked when he was told that the narration he recorded would be used in a Goofy cartoon.

How to Ride a Horse was the first of several How to films made in which Goofy doesn't speak. These were made during a period when Goofy's voice artist Pinto Colvig was temporarily unavailable.

Maquettes in the model department include Jiminy Cricket and the drunk cuckoo clock from Pinochio, characters from Fantasia including a black centaurette which Robert Benchley takes with him, and the Knight from The Reluctant Dragon. Maquettes of early versions of Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Tinker Bell as well as Lady and the Tramp can be seen. Both movies were more than 10 years away from completion.

In the sound effects department the workers are creating sound effects for a piece of film with the train Casey Junior. Casey would pop up in Dinsney's next film Dumbo. Likewise in the art department the animators are making sketches for Dumbo. Bambi also makes a minor appearance in The Reluctant Dragon, a year before Bambi was released.

The Donald Duck parodies of Old Master paintings were originally made for an unproduced cartoon in which Donald is a guard at a museum.

The Mickey Avenue/Dopey Drive signpost was built specifically for the movie, and was supposed to be removed afterward. It wasn't, and it still stands at the Disney studio.

In a scene Benchley visits a voice recording session featuring Clarence Nash, the voice of Donald Duck, and Florence Gill, the voice of Clara Cluck.

Portions of the animated segment The Reluctant Dragon had to be redone because of objections by the Hays Office. The dragon was originally drawn with a navel which had to removed before the film could be passed. That's so fucking ridiculous.

This is the first full-length feature for Disney where the voices are credited.

The film was released in the middle of the Disney animators' strike of 1941. Strikers picketed the film's premiere with signs that attacked Disney for unfair business practices, low pay, lack of recognition, and favoritism. Critics and audiences were put off by the fact that the film was not a new Disney animated feature in the vein of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Pinocchio, but essentially a collection of four short cartoons and various live-action vignettes. The Reluctant Dragon cost $600,000 to make, but only returned $400,000 from the box office. It wasn't seen again in it's entirety til last year when it was released on DVD.

Robert Benchley proposed the following epitaph for his tombstone though ultimately it was not used: "This is all above my head.".

Fun Quotes:
Narrator from How to Ride a Horse: Yes, the horse, the servant of mankind, the aristocrat of the animal kingdom. Noble, faithful, obedient, and kind, most magnificent of all dumb animals.

Robert Benchley: Very good. I like the way you handle that fowl language.
Clarence Nash: [as Donald Duck] Foul language? Why the very idea!

As a bonus click here to watch the Goofy cartoon How to Ride a Horse: