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Friday, January 27, 2012

Disneyear: The Reluctant Dragon (1941)

Before this point in the Year of Disney, we've witnessed some of the greatest animated films the studio will ever produce. Ever wonder how they made those films? This movie (or documentary?) is your answer. Let's take a look.

Our film begins at the home of comedian Robert Benchley. His demanding wife claims she has an idea for a new Disney cartoon based on Kenneth Grahame's (author of Wind in the Willows) story, The Reluctant Dragon and demands that her very reluctant husband go to Disney himself and pitch the idea. He goes there and actually gets more than he bargained for with an entire tour of the studio. Benchley gets to see every single process that goes through an animated film, from concept art to camera work, concept art, storyboards, sound effects, voice overs, how to impersonate Donald Duck, and more. He has a good time getting to know some of the artists until he meets uncle Walt himself and shows Benchley his latest short film. In some kind of a cruel twist, it's The Reluctant Dragon. After that, Benchley nags at him about getting there earlier to pitch her idea, he gets back at his wife by throwing a small tantrum a la Donald. 

Until I started looking at animation, this was one of the few Disney films that actually stayed under my radar. I mean, I've seem the titular short before, but never in it's source material. I will admit that after seeing it for the first time, I actually kind of enjoyed it. Like I said, you get a glimpse at how Disney made these cartoons before today's methods and even (what was then) a sneak-peek of some of the films I'm going to review next, Dumbo and Bambi. Benchley himself is entertaining and it is nice that you get to know the people that work on these films. More than what I can say for Saludos Amigos. The film also starts in black and white but ends in color. Sounds weird, but I think it's supposed to show how camera technology has changed, which is nice. You also get to see some short cartoons in between. The only thing I think I didn't care for was that officer that gives him the tour and Benchley's wife. They came off as kind of annoying to me.

The cartoons themselves are nice.I liked the Baby Weems story (done entirely by storyboards, but they were in that department so it makes sense.) and the Goofy cartoon, How to Ride a Horse, is hilarious. The title cartoon was only ok, I thought. The animation and colors are nice and it does actually get a laugh out of me, (especially the dragon and Sir Giles' "fight"). Trust me, I didn't expect the dragon to sound like he does. Hell, I saw the picture of him before and though the was a girl! Didn't see that coming, but he does get a laugh out of me by just how... well, femmy he was. It makes up the final 20 minutes of the film which kind of fits into Mr. Benchley ironic situation. It's funny and entertaining, but not Disney's best short. 

So that's The Reluctant Dragon. If you're interested in the process of traditional animation or if you just want to see some entertaining cartoons, I'd say give this movie a shot. 

Here's some poetry from our dragon.

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