The Reluctant Dragon (1941)

Animation, Comedy, Family
Robert Benchley, Frances Gifford, Buddy Pepper, Nana Bryant
Humorist Robert Benchley learns about the animation process at Walt Disney Studios while trying to find the great man himself to pitch him the idea of making a cartoon about a shy dragon.
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  • 20 Jun 1941 Released:
  • 12 May 2009 DVD Release:
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  • Kenneth Grahame (based on the story by), Ted Sears Writer:
  • Alfred L. Werker, Hamilton Luske, Jack Cutting, Ub Director:
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Neglected Disney Classic5/10

I happened upon this film during a late night when nothing else was on TV, and couldn't have been happier that I came across it.

In this, we're taken behind-the-scenes of Disney studios circa 1941, and given a humorous (and, I'm sure, highly fictionalized) tour of the studio and its various departments. While I've always been a fan of Disney's animation, I'd never been given a glimpse of the animators themselves, and I always thought that they deserved to be as well known as the Warner Brothers stable of talent. Well, here they're given a chance to hog the spotlight (as Disney himself doesn't show up until the final few moments of the film) and show off their talents.

Not only is this a good chance for you to see how some of your Disney favorites were brought to screen, the linking device with comic Robert Benchley is charming throughout, and the attitude is more than a little self-deprecating (playing up the notion that one is indoctrinated into the "Disney way of life" in working for the Mouse, Benchley's guide is portrayed as a militarily-garbed, wormy little walking Disney Rule Book). The animation itself is great (as is usual for Disney of this vintage) and the live-action work is funny in a way that most Disney live-action works aren't. All of this adds up to a most rewarding, and highly neglected, classic from the Vaults of Disney.
An overlooked gem5/10

Reluctant Dragon is best viewed in the Disney Treasures Behind the Scenes DVD.this story combined with baby weems and Goofys "how to ride a horse" make this a magical treat for all ages,Timeless Disney classic.The live action scenes of the original voices of Donald Duck and Clara Cluck are a rare joy to see.
eye-popping look at the Disney process5/10

This little classic spends just short of an hour touring the Disney Studios in the company of Robert Benchley, the humorist who acts like a big kid in a candy store (and is thus the perfect guide for something like this).

We see how the cartoons are made, moving from the recording studio - where the real-life voices of Donald Duck and Clara Cluck sing an aria - through to clay models of the characters to be animated - the sound effects dept. (we see the full Casey Junior sequence, some of which ended up in 1941's 'Dumbo') - the scenario department (we see a whole cartoon - Baby Weems - in storyboard format) - the animation department (we see a cartoon feature on riding a horse, and see Donald Duck showing us how he walks) - and much more. There's also a neat segue from black and white to Technicolor.

'The Reluctant Dragon' is a book which Benchley hopes to pitch to Disney, only to find the film has already been made; the last 20 minutes of this feature is the cartoon about the (rather camp) dragon, and a classic bit of Disney work.

The whole movie is engrossing and a fantastic overview of the state-of-the-art work being done by the Disney Studios at the beginning of the 40s.
Enjoyable tour of the Disney studio...6/10
Disney film incorporating several animated shorts with live-action tour of Walt Disney's studio in Burbank, California. Robert Benchley gives a colorful "performance" as a guest of Walt's (who makes a cameo), meeting animators and storyboard-editors while pitching the movie idea of a shy dragon. This picture, more a playful stunt than a memorable entry in the Disney canon, features some gorgeous animation and a lovely switch from black-and-white to color early on. It's more likely to appeal to nostalgia-crazy grown-ups however, instead of restless kids. Look for appearances by Goofy, Donald Duck, Bambi, and...Alan Ladd?! **1/2 from ****
What ho! Quite so!5/10

God, I love this film. It's just such fun.

At the time this film was made, Disney was primarily known for his animation but was positively itching to branch out into live-action. This is his first venture into "traditional" filmmaking. The story concerns comedic actor Robert Benchley (whose "How To" film series inspired many classic Goofy shorts) who, at the urging of his wife, searches the Disney studio top to bottom trying to sell Walt on the idea of making a movie about Kenneth Grahame's "The Reluctant Dragon" (Grahame's masterpiece "The Wind in the Willows" wouldn't become a Disney film for many years yet.) On the way he meets voice actors, musicians, animators (one played by Alan Ladd) and even Donald Duck and Goofy. When he finally finds Walt, he is shocked to see that his story has already been produced as one of Disney's most charming animated shorts.

Needless to say, this film is pretty dated in the age of "Toy Story" and "Finding Nemo" (I refuse to put the Dreamworks' "S" word in the same category as these two features) but the interesting thing is how many of these tried-and-true practices remain in effect to this day.

Surprisingly, this live-action film is ideal for animation fans. Not so much for the "How does it work?" element, but just the thrill in being immersed in that world. From sound effects recording to paint application. And Benchley's funny, let's not forget that.