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The Reluctant Dragon (1941)
by Kevin Conner
IMDB Entry: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034091/
Source image credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/fe/Reluctant_Dragon.jpg
images are copyright their respective owners, and are used under fair use.
“The Reluctant Dragon” is a time capsule for the ages. Unfortunately, that also means you will see clips of unflattering racially motivated stereotypes (specifically, a shot in the “Baby Weems” sequence). At the same time, you will see contrasting images of positive racial portrayals (such as the beautifully drawn and sculpted African Zebra Centaur from Fantasia – one of my personal top 5 favorite centaur images in history). That’s why this movie comes with a warning for parents: if you see an uncensored version of this movie with a young kid old enough to understand racism, it is the duty of the parent or guardian to make sure their children understand what is ok and what isn’t. Thankfully, these moments are fleeting in seconds, and the story is enjoyable on its own.
When it first came out, this movie was thought of as a “cheat” (as aptly described by Leonard Maltin and critics of the era). That’s because this movie was coming off several Disney successes, during a time of economic recovery, and great public fear of being dragged in another war. People went to the theaters expecting escapism, but what this movie offered was a playful drama of fiction and fact on how Disney put its films together. At the same time, this movie offered a glimpse into the processes that made Disney what it is today. It gave a rare look at men and women who helped make Disney magic, such as the original voice of Donald Duck. I can’t describe how much I love films like this, but I can understand people who don’t. It tries to combine very technical aspects of the business with enough comedy to keep those disinterested in such movies interested in this movie, but the acting and direction for the main character (a man who wants to pitch “The Reluctant Dragon” to Disney) makes it a little too kiddish in certain scenes where they should probably be playing it with a bit more maturity (Why, Robert Benchley, why?!). The Production was a bit low in some places, part of that due to a labor strike during the making of the film. However, I have no complaints about Editing or Sound.
Still, this is a wonderful time capsule, and invaluable for those who want to see a glimpse into the Disney process. On a personal note, I noticed Disney sits the same way I do, a result of issues with legs and knees. The fact he let himself look and act that relaxed is an interesting, albeit short, little glimpse into a man of many controversies (many of them baseless and undeserved).
I do recommend this movie for everyone and anyone who is interested in this type of back stage pass. You may find the script, acting and direction a bit hokey, even for a kid centric production, but the animated sequences and information from this process are invaluable to any young inquisitive mind.
A final note: for those who like practicing some Disney trivia, this movie is full of it. Look on the table of figures… while the Centaur Zebra steals the show (and is stolen, herself), look for Captain Hook dressed in black – more than a decade before Pan made it to the theaters; count how many times Donald Duck made an appearance; the Technicolor process being exclusively highlighted – a process made popular by Disney with an exclusive year long agreement that helped fund said process in its early days (Flowers and Trees (1932)); and check out the special treat audiences everywhere received of the behind the scenes production for Disney’s next big hit! If kids in 1941 were like kids when I was growing up, I can guarantee every single one on the playground would be talking about that very next movie!
Script: 3 1/4
Acting: 3 1/2
Overall (rounded up) 3.5 out of 4
Cast and Production Information
The Staff of the Walt Disney Studio
Leone Le Doux
J. Donald Wilson
(with many more)
The Reluctant Dragon based on a story by “The Reluctant Dragon” by:
The Reluctant Dragon sequence:
Baby Weems sequence:
John P. Miller
Alfred L. Werker
Walt Disney Productions