Movies I Need To See Before I Die: THE RELUCTANT DRAGON (1941)


(This is a column where I review movies that I have never seen, but SHOULD have.  Being a film Geek, I have seen a ton of films.  But life is also very short, and for one reason or another, there are quite a few flicks that I have never got to.  Sure, it probably doesn’t matter if I ever see a movie like PARENTAL GUIDANCE, but a movie like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA…. well, I should have seen that already.  I’m a film geek for God’s sake!  I have now decided that I should get on that before I get too old.  I have compiled a list of films that I WANT or NEED to watch, and am going to start watching them when I have spare time.  So I will randomly be posting reviews of movies that I have always wanted or needed to see.  Enjoy!)

If you grew up watching Disney cartoons, like me, then perhaps you have heard of or even seen the animated short, THE RELUCTANT DRAGON.  It’s about 15 minutes.  I never saw it.  But wait a minute!  Why would I be reviewing a cartoon short?  I thought I was just doing feature films?!?  Well, don’t worry!  I am still ONLY doing feature films.  You see, back in 1941, Disney released THE RELUCTANT DRAGON as a feature. So it was more than just the short.

Actually, most of the movie is about character actor Robert Benchley going to Disney studios to talk to the big man himself to pitch an idea for a cartoon.  You see, his wife convinces him that the book that they just read, The Reluctant Dragon, would be perfect for a Disney cartoon.  Robert doesn’t really want to , but his wife kind of forces him into going.  She drops hims off at the studio, and on Robert’s way to meet Walt, he gets constantly distracted by everything going on at the studio.

This isn’t really so much a movie as it is just an excuse to show the movie-going audience some of what goes into making an animated film.  And you know what?  That’s absolutely fine by me.  I’m a huge animated fan.  In particular, I love the golden age of cartoons, my favorite actually being the Disney era of the 30’s and 40’s, so this flick was right up my alley.

Once Robert is at the studio walking around, he stumbles into various rooms, like where artists are drawing an elephant from a live model, a soundstage where they are creating sound for a train, a place where they create all sorts of colorful paints, how they photograph and animate cells, and we even get to see how a cartoon is storyboarded and pitched.  All of these things should be fascinating to anyone interested in how cartoon are made.  I thought it was neat how the movie beings in Black & White, and then when he steps into the color room, it turns into glorious technicolor for the rest of the picture.

I enjoyed most of these little segments.  It took a few minutes for me to get into it, probably because Robert Benchley isn’t the most appealing actor.  And the so-called plot is pretty thin.  Like I said, it’s just an excuse for a backstage tour at the Disney studio.  But there were plenty of stand out sequences, like the Baby Weems storyboard, animating Donald Duck, and seeing how Donald’s voice is recorded during a musical number with the lady who does that fat hen’s voice.  There’s also a full Goofy short as well, which was a big bonus for me.  It’s called HOW TO RIDE A HORSE.  I didn’t even know about this one as it wasn’t included in my “Complete Goofy” collection on DVD.  It’s not the best Goofy short, but it was still decent.  This was also the first time audiences got to see a first glimpse at BAMBI,  which wasn’t released until the following year.

All of this leads up to Benchley meeting Mr. Disney himself in a screening room where they watch….. THE RELUCTANT DRAGON.  The short is a cute little tale, but far from Disney’s greatest.  It’s amusing, but not anything special.  It’s charming more than anything.  I didn’t laugh but had a nice-sized grin throughout.

This is an unique experience.  It’s different from most traditional films.  It’s pretty much a behind-the-scenes movie with a thin plot to disguise it as a feature film.  I’m not complaining though.  I enjoyed myself.  This would be a great movie to show kids how animated films are made.  It’s not boring and kids should find plenty to love.  Glad I got to see it!   ★★★ (out of ★★★★)

– Not rated, but should be rated G.  Nothing objectionable, unless you’re sensitive of some animated racial stereotyping that is pretty innocent and harmless, in my opinion.  Oh, I forgot, there was one mild swear word.  Someone calls the dragon an “ass”.  That might cause the MPAA to rate the movie PG.

– Running time: 1hr 13min.

(THE RELUCTANT DRAGON  is out-of-print on DVD, but is streaming on Netflix!)

Categories: Austin Kennedy, Movies I Need To See Before I Die, Reviews

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