Disney: The Reluctant Dragon

The Reluctant Dragon is a 1941 film by Walt Disney Pictures. While much of the film was shot with live footage, the film takes a behind-the-scenes look at how Disney makes their cartoons, via a tour around their then-newly built Burbank studio, and several animated segments are graciously scattered throughout.

The plot of the film is centered on humorist Robert Benchley, whose wife hectors him into visiting the Disney studio to try to pitch an adaptation of the Kenneth Grahame book "The Reluctant Dragon". The film then shows him going through several parts of the studio, including the life drawing class, a live recording of Donald Duck and Clara Cluck's voice actors (singing an Opera—in character, no less!), a sound stage working on a short centered on a proto-Casey Jr., the camera department (where the film makes a jarring switch to full blown technicolor) where we get a look at the famous Multiplane Camera (as well as a cameo appearance by Donald Duck), a trip through the ink-and-paint department (where we get a cameo of Bambi), the maquette department, a storyboard session (where we are presented the story of "Baby Weems", which is a very intriguing experiment in Limited Animation), an animators' room (with appearances by Ward Kimball, Fred Moore and Norm Ferguson) where we are presented an all-new Goofy cartoon short ("How to Ride a Horse"), and finally a screening room, where Benchley meets Walt Disney himself and is treated to the presentation of an animated short based on... "The Reluctant Dragon"!

The film was made for the purpose of economics. Due to the financial failures of Pinocchio and Fantasia, Walt needed a way to make some quick cash, and realizing how popular one of his previous documentaries centered on making cartoons was, he decided to make a film that delves very deep into the making of his studio's works. The film was also made as a way of getting good publicity for the studio during the rise of the disastrous 1941 studio strike. Unfortunately, it didn't work. Critics were strongly disappointed that the film was not another animated feature but rather a collection of shorts and scathed it as a "cheater film"—the fact that the aforementioned strike undermined the way the film presented the studio didn't help. As such, the film flopped badly, failing to make up even its budget of US$600,000. Watched today, in its proper context, it's a very interesting, and humorous film.

The actual "Reluctant Dragon" short from the end has sometimes been re-released as its own standalone subject or packaged with another short, but the entire, unabridged film is available on the Walt Disney Treasures DVD Behind the Scenes at Walt Disney Studios, and as a bonus feature on the Blu-Ray bundle of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad and Fun and Fancy Free. The characters of the Dragon and Sir Giles would later make "blink and you'll miss 'em" cameos in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

No relation to Pete's Dragon, by the way.

Tropes Related To This Film:

  • Animation Bump: The Reluctant Dragon segment.
  • Anthology Film
  • Babies Make Everything Better: The Baby Weems segment.
  • Berserk Button: The dragon can't get angry enough to breathe fire, until he is called a "punk poet".
  • Brainy Baby: Baby Weems.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: When Robert enters the camera department and sees that the film is now in color.
  • The Bore: Humphrey, the guide sent to take Robert to Walt. Robert finds him so boring that he constantly slips away from him, which is how he ends up touring the studio.
  • Camp Gay: The dragon is so camp it's hard to believe they got away with this in the 1940's.
  • Captain Obvious: When Robert sees some cows in the Casey Jr. animated segment, he feels free to point out that those are, in fact, "Cows."
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The film prior to the camera department. An interesting example, as it was probably done to save Walt a few bucks.
  • Documentary Of Lies: While the film isn't that inaccurate in depicting the structure of Disney's studio, it was made at a time when there was a massive studio strike going on at the Disney studio, which contrasted the peaceful atmosphere the film portrayed of it, not helped by the strikers picketing the film, which certainly contributed to it flopping.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Of Casey Jr, Bambi, and in the model department we get looks at models of Aunt Sarah, Si, and Am, and Captain Hook and Tinkerbell.
  • Exploding Closet: Robert inadvertently opens one of these while trying to hide from Humphrey.
  • Faux to Guide: "How to Ride a Horse", the first of the Goofy "How-to" cartoons.
  • Framing Device: The whole film is one for the Reluctant Dragon segment at the end.
  • Henpecked Husband: Robert.
  • Is This What Anger Feels Like?: The dragon cheerfully saying, "Ooh, I'm mad, I'm mad!"
  • Limited Animation: The Baby Weems segment.
  • Moody Mount: The horse Goofy tries to ride in "How to Ride a Horse". Sir Giles' horse counts too, judging from the sour expression he makes while watching Giles and the dragon fake-fight.
  • Oblivious to His Own Description: As the animators sketch an elephant, Robert comments on how stupid elephants are and holds up one of the drawings as an example, unaware that it's a caricature of him as an elephant.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: This one is a prissy, docile poet. Then again, so is Sir Giles.
  • Random Events Plot
  • Reluctant Monster: The dragon, of course.
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: Not the film itself, but when Robert falls into the pool and tries speaking with water in his mouth, the bubbles that are coming out are clearly hand drawn animation. Also there's the scene in the camera room where Donald Duck talks back to Robert.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: After going all over the studio looking for Walt, Robert finally finds him in the projection room, screening a film of the very story he was going to sell Walt.
  • The Short Guy with Glasses: Humphrey, the studio tour guide.
  • Stock Footage: The footage of Donald explaining to Robert how a walk cycle works has been reused in various making-of featurettes with someone else in the place of Robert.