The Reluctant Dragon (1941)

Another hybrid film of live action and animation but with two segments, one of a tour of Walt Disney Studios and the other of The Reluctant Dragon. This film was released on June 20th, 1941, it opens with Robert Benchley  at home, trying to sell his rights of The Reluctant Dragon to Walt Disney. His wife (Nana Bryant) finally convinces him to drive to the studios, where they get a tour.

The first segment, called Studio Operations Tour by Robert Benchley, is Benchley exploring the studio. He learns about the traditional animation process as a staff employee, Doris (Frances Gifford), explains everything. The Tour begins in the life drawing classroom where we see animators learning how to draw characters. Next they listen in on Clearance Nash (Donald Duck) and Florence Gill (Clara Duck) doing a voice recording. Following, they enter a foley session, where Doris demonstrates a sonovox for a scene featuring Casey Junior, the train from Dumbo. Then with the help of Donald Dusk, Doris explains how technicolor, animation and animation photography in the camera room before moving on to the Ink and  Paint department, where Bambi is seen as a completed cel character. The next stop was the maquette making department, or statue characters, so animators can see them from all angles. During the time we can see statues of Aunt Sarah, Si and Am from Lady and the Tramp along with Captain Hook and Tinker Bell, two upcoming movies that had been postponed by World War II.

Next Doris and Benchley peep into the Star board room where they are asked by Alan Ladd for their opinion on a new short called Baby Weems. Following, Doris and Benchley find a room of animators, which included Ward Kimball, Fred Moore and Norm Ferguson, previewing the goofy cartoon called How to Ride a Horse. Finally Doris and Benchley were caught by the Studio Guide, Humphry is (Buddy Pepper) who brings Benchley to Walt Disney, who invites him to join him in watching a newly completed film. To Benchley’s surprise it was The Reluctant Dragon.

The next segment was The Reluctant Dragon where it begins with a boy (Billy Lee) reading a book about knights and a black thirsty dragon when his father passes by frantically speaking of a monster. The boy tells his father  it’s a dragon which causes the father to run into the village panicking. 

Meanwhile, the boy finds the dragon’s cave befriending the shy creature. Returning to the village to explain the confusion, he finds that the dragon slayer Sir Giles( Claud Allister) has arrived. Running back to the cave, they boy attempts to convince the dragon (Barnett Parker) out to fight but the dragon refuses and exclaims “I never fight.” With that the boy finds Sir Giles who is intrigued , together they visit the dragon. Learning that both the dragon and Sir Giles love poetry, they serenade each other until the boy can’t take it any more. They boy recites his own poem convincing them to fight. Realizing what he agreed to as the boy and Sir Giles leave, the dragon tries to stop the fight but he is ignored.

The following day all the villagers are waiting to watch. The boy runs to the cave provoking the dragon into rage where he fights Sir Giles as the fight gets closer to the cave. The two make a big ruckus causing a cloud of dirt where they enter the cave enjoying tea and dancing, all while pretending to fight. After a while Sir Giles and the dragon come back out, acting out a cruel death scene. The dragon is accepted into the village with his poems and the story ends. The movie ends with Benchley and his wife driving home. Mrs. Benchley is upset that her husband didn’t sell the rights when Disney already made the movie.

It is a fun movie. It is great to show how movies were made back in the 1940s and is underrated. Perfect and appropriate for the whole family.

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