Disney’s 1941 film The Reluctant Dragon was screened last weekend on the Disney Studios lot in Burbank, California, at an event sponsored by D23, the official Disney fan club.
Before the film, multiple short presentations wer
e made from different Disney historians and experts. Of note was a presentation made by Becky Cline, the current director of the Walt Disney Archives, who talked about her upcoming book The Walt Disney Studios: A Lot to Remember. The book, which will be released on September 6, is a chronicle of Disney’s Burbank studio that Walt and Roy Disney built with the profits from 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. If the book, which contains many previously unpublished photos of the studio lot, is anything like the pictures that were shown during her presentation (and I’m sure it is), it looks like a must-have for any serious Disney history fan.
Also in attendance were Disney Legends Dave Smith, founder and retired head of the Walt Disney Archives, along with fan favorite Tony Baxter, retired Disney imagineer. Among his many contributions to Walt Disney Imagineering and Disney parks worldwide, Baxter is also the creator of another famous Disney dragon–Figment from Epcot park’s Imagination pavilion (or what remains of it; it’s currently a shell of its former self, but that’s another article for another blog). Baxter gave a brief presentation about Disney dragons and how the creation of Figment was influenced by the style and temperament of the dragon created by the Disney animators for The Reluctant Dragon.
Presentations were also given by Fox Carney, research manager at the Disney Animation Research Library, and Ted Thomas, filmmaker and son of animator and Disney Legend Frank Thomas (who was also one of Walt’s “Nine Old Men”) about the unique, artist-friendly architecture Walt Disney implemented at the Burbank studio; Bill Farmer, the voice of Goofy, and Brett Iwan, current voice of Mickey Mouse, about the artistry and legacy of voice work at Disney; and Les Perkins, filmmaker and historian, about the sets created for the film, the use of the massive Technicolor camera for the some of the live-action scenes, and other interesting aspects of the making of the movie.
The film itself is a fascinating snapshot into the early days of Disney animation at the Burbank studios. Hosted by the then-popular comedian Robert Benchley, the film takes a comedic and informative look at the different aspects in making an animated film (storyboards, voice, sounds, animation, ink and paint, etc.) as Mr. Benchley tries to pitch a story idea to Walt Disney himself. While all sets are recreations, all exterior shots of the studio lot are the real deal.
It culminates with the charming and hilarious animated short starring the titular dragon, which itself is based from a children’s story authored by the British writer Kenneth Grahame (it’s part of his Dream Days story collection).
The Reluctant Dragon is definitely a product of its time with the pacing, tone, and humor appropriate for the period. It might not be the most compelling film ever to come out of the Disney Studios, but, as guest Les Perkins said, it’s a “unique time capsule of this magical studio.” I would concur.
Many thanks to D23 for putting on this event. Here are some pics from last Saturday.