So Ben gave Fantasia a slightly higher score than I did. I suppose he has less to compare the film to than I do in the sense of ‘Disney films on-a-whole’. Little concerned by what he thought he was seeing on the screen for part of ‘The Nutcracker Suite’ segment (although thinking back to when we were watching it, it might’ve been me that mentioned the initial ‘fish-looking-like-sperm’. #madeforeachother.
Interested to see what we both think of The Reluctant Dragon’ as it was my first time watching it too, so let’s go!
The Reluctant Dragon was the fourth film to come out of the Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS). The majority of the film is live-action and follows a man called Robert Benchley as he heads to the WDAS with the aim of persuading Mr Disney to make his book ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ into an animated film. He ends up having a tour of the studio, whilst trying to avoid someone (I can’t remember why… I zoned out briefly while watching and missed it) and is shown all the different components that go into making a Disney film (the animation, the music, the sound effects, etc…). Eventually he meets Walt and we get to see the animated film of The Reluctant Dragon.
I found this film to be a pleasant surprise. Robert Benchley was engaging (even if he did seem to hit-on every woman at the studio that was below a certain age, despite him being at the studio due to his wife’s encouragement) and it was genuinely really interesting to see all the components that go into an animated film in the 1940s. The cartoon in the middle about the baby I found to drag on for too long and not be an overly entertaining story. The real highlight of the film, for me, was the title animation. The ‘campness’ of the dragon was hilarious and the fact that the ‘brave knight’ was, at times, equally so just made the whole thing a delight to watch. All-in-all, I would recommend checking this little gem out.
For the first time, I have not been prepped or given any warning for what I’m about to encounter as Kerry hasn’t seen this film either. Why hasn’t she watched it? Why has a self-confessed Disney fanatic not been fussed enough to find this film? She sat through Pinocchio multiple times for crying out loud and has chosen to not watch this even once?! The intro starts in usual Disney fashion, except this time it’s so good they couldn’t even be arsed to make it in colour. The horns are making some really weird noises here as well. The very first screen we see of the actual film is this:
Erm… right. Is this the animation quality we’re dealing with here?! No wonder this isn’t part of the conversation regarding Disney classics. Is this why Kerry hasn’t watched it?! I can’t blame her. A couple of seconds later however, the camera pans out to this:
Ah, it’s a woman holding a book! And it’s a real woman! My mind is blown right now. I mean, I know we had the much-beloved Deems Taylor and an orchestra in the last film, but I assumed we were back to animation here. Well with some real people to work with, maybe we’ll have a more sensible storyline with some more complex and relatable characters. We switch to the woman’s husband who’s shooting fake ducks whilst lying on a dingy in a swimming pool. Maybe not then.
The book the woman was reading turns out to have been written by the couple’s nephew and she thinks the husband should go to Walt Disney himself to see if he will buy it and turn it into a film. Why the nephew doesn’t get to do it, I don’t know. Anyway, off they go.
Mr and Mrs Benchley reach the studios and to his dismay she tells him she’s not going in with him and she’s going shopping instead. Oh that’s nice! Way to stay and show moral support for your nervous husband on what is potentially his big break!!! Appalling. I reckon she must be having an affair, and this is a sure-fire way to keep him out of the way. In a short while, the other man is going to be saying:
“How did you get rid of your husband this afternoon then?”
“I told him to take that silly book my Nephew’s written down to the Walt Disney Studios to see if Walt Disney will buy it.”
“Seriously, he bought that?! And he’s actually gone down there? What a dumbass!”
“Oh that’s nothing, did you know his latest hobby is shooting fake ducks whilst lying on a dingy in our swimming pool…?”
Mr Benchley meets a security guard who will take him to see Walt. The guard decides to tell him about the size of Disney studios and other fascinating facts like the chemical makeup of the soil it’s built on (seriously). No wonder this film is forgotten. As I’m typing this review, I’ve just totally lost my train of thought. The reason for this is that Kerry has just asked our six-year-old son what he wants to be when he is older. His response is “I want to be a fireman so I can climb trees and rescue cats. And dogs and hats.” Amazing. How can I concentrate now?!
I obviously lost concentration when watching the film as well, as in my notes, the security guard has vanished Mr Benchley is stumbling into a skeleton in the middle of an elephant drawing class. There’s a real elephant as a model too. Not quite sure how that happened. Basically, a load of animators are practicing how to draw Dumbo, which is the next Disney film they released. I’m starting to wonder if this movie is going to be one giant shameless advertisement for their next animation film. For some reason all the animators are asking for his opinion on their drawings! I’m pretty confident that if some random dude stumbles into your work unannounced, the first thing you would do would not be to ask him to CRITIQUE YOUR WORK! Furthermore, everyone is being really unnecessarily mean about elephants by saying how stupid they are. Dicks.
Robert (I’ve just looked up his name, so I don’t spend the whole film calling him Mr Benchley. Mr Benchley sounds like the name of a boss in a softcore porn film. I bet I’m the only person who thought this) leaves the animation room and somehow finds himself in the orchestra room. The lack of general security is questionable. He sits down, as you do, to watch the orchestra perform. A woman walks in.
Now I want to talk about this Woman. In particular, I want to talk about what she has on her head.
Actually, I want to talk about her coat as well, but we’ll get to that.
I’ve come up with a few ideas as to what this thing on her head is supposed to be, and I think this is game that is fun for the whole family to try and answer. It could be water pouring out of a cave entrance. It could be a pigeon wearing a travelling cloak. It could be a Dementor from Harry Potter trying to cradle milk. It could be a silly hat. As to what her coat is requires no guesswork. It’s a fancy-dress Gorilla costume. That’s obvious. She walks over to a microphone and I was expecting her to start singing opera. Or some vocal monstrosity similar to Edith Piaf. She starts singing like a chicken and does a scarily good job (honestly, I think I prefer it to Edith Piaf. But then I’d prefer Snow White’s singing to Edith Piaf… Ok maybe that’s pushing it…). Then a guy starts singing with her in Donald Ducks voice. Very entertaining. When they finish, Robert asks if they can do a dragon’s voice for his story. To help them out, he gets down on all fours and pretends to be a dragon. I bet they were lost for ideas until he did this.
The security guard reappears however and leads him away. Until the guard loses him again. How irresponsible. Is nice to think guards could be so laid-back back then. The early 1940’s must have been a very peaceful time…
Robert then finds himself in the sound-effects room. Instead of telling him to bugger off, everybody in the room shows him how they do all their sound effects. We watch a train going along a track on a screen as they do their demonstrations. This is actually fascinating to see and describing the effects won’t do them justice, but I strongly recommend watching this to see the ingenious ways various sounds that we take for granted in films were made before the age of computers. I never appreciated the lengths they had to go to in order to achieve these effects, and it gives me a new sense of appreciation for the resulting films (doesn’t mean I enjoy the stories though). There’s a woman there who is making the noises of a train using some contraption. The sexual tension between her and Robert is palpable. Well I think it is anyway. After said train crashes and the sound effects team drop hundreds of pots and pans to achieve a fitting sound effect, he asks her the apt line, “Wouldn’t it be easier just to wreck a real train?”
He wanders into another room and the film suddenly goes from black and white to colour! You mean I’ve been having to watch the first half of the film in black and white for no reason? They do this to demonstrate technicolour or something…
Ah, the train sound lady has reappeared again to show him round this room. I knew there was sexual tension, she cannot stay away from him. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Robert was forced to go down to the Disney studios by his wife only for him to meet a new woman that he starts having a fling with whilst he’s there? I predict the next room they end up in will be the broom cupboard. We see more interesting stuff with how they do the slides for a Donald Duck cartoon. I’m enjoying this more than any of the previous Disney films I’ve watch thus far.
They then take themselves and their presumably burning loins to the paint room next. Ok, I don’t say this often, but I really want to eat the paint. It looks delicious. We see how they draw Bambi. Robert says, “Aw, ain’t he cute!” I really want them to reply, “Yeah, next we’re going to draw his mum being shot!”
He moves on to yet another room, this time it’s the all important ‘baby-sound-effects’ room. Recognizing that that would be a bit unnecessary to dedicate a whole room to just that, they double it up as a ‘drawing-baby-in-top hat’ room too. The film was made in 1941. It’s now 2020. That baby is now about 80. Mind completely blown. Right now, that very baby is now probably going around to relatives’ houses complaining about his dodgy hips and ‘minorities’, or whatever 80-year-old white American males do.
The people in this room decide to show Robert everything they do in their work. Just like everyone else has done. I’m sorry but in reality, he would be told to get out, not be given a personalised guided tour! If I take my kids down to the studios, can I expect them to be given the same treatment?! No chance, they wouldn’t even get through the front door. THIS IS ALL LIES! He’s given a preview screening of their new cartoon. Its about a genius baby. It’s long and boring and I can’t be bothered to go into it any further…
When it mercifully finishes, he hides from the guard and walks into another room that is full of ducks on the wall. Once again, the dude in there seems grateful just to have some outside human contact and can’t wait to show him the cartoon he’s making. I reckon all the Walt Disney staff have balls and chains on their feet so they can never leave. This time it’s a long Goofy cartoon. Its about how to learn to ride a horse. It’s a lot more fun than the genius baby story but still drags on and isn’t worth discussing much further.
Finally after seeing a dude panting in a mirror to inspire him, before drawing Pluto, the security guard finally catches up with Robert and takes him to Walt Disney. So this is what Walt Disney looks like! An authoritarian pornstar. Sort of expected as much. Walt decides to give Robert yet another preview of an animation they’re making.
A town are extremely worried about a nearby dragon. We then switch to the dragon who is showering under a waterfall and, my, that is one camp dragon. As stereotypically ‘camp’ a dragon as you would ever likely see. A boy from the village, though, has appeared to warn the dragon that a knight is going to try and destroy him to save the village. Bearing in mind this is a village in 1941 I wonder if they want to attack him because dragons are a fierce danger or because they find him a little too ‘extra’?
The boy goes to ‘Sir Giles the dragon killer’ to try and convince him not to kill said dragon. Sir Giles is an old toff who evidently likes revealing himself. Once dressed, the boy takes him to meet the dragon.
The dragon, true to ‘camp and not at all fierce’ form, greets him by singing “Hello boy, I’m having a picnic!” The boy responds, “This is Sir Giles, the dragon killer.” The dragon packs up the picnic. To diffuse the tension the boy demonstrates how both dragon and dragon-killer share a love of poetry. So the dragon sings a song about upside-down cakes and Sir Giles responds by singing about radishes. Now bonded, they agree to have a fake fight, so the villagers are happy, Sir Giles looks brave and dragon isn’t dead.
The next day the villagers are cashing in on the upcoming fight by selling balloons and taking bets amongst other things. The dragon and Sir Giles have their fake fight; the dragon pretends to be defeated and Sir Giles claims to have trained and ‘reformed’ him so they can all live happily ever after. It was quite enjoyable, by far the best cartoon sequence of the film and probably the most enjoyable thing I’ve watched so far on this epic Disney slog journey.
The final scene is Robert being taken home by his now exasperated (yet presumably sexually satisfied) wife berating him for being too slow to pitch his idea to Walt Disney. For in that time he was wandering around the studio, the Reluctant Dragon had already been made. Which begs a few questions. Firstly, were the staff at Walt Disney Studios intentionally stalling Robert so they could pinch the idea and turn it into a film? Secondly, if Robert was only a few hours slow in pitching his idea to Walt, does that mean they made the whole cartoon in the time he was meandering around the studios? Thirdly, did Robert and train-noise-lady ever get to act on their mutual sexual desires before Mrs Benchley returned from shopping / other man?
So many questions and a slightly rushed, unsatisfying ending, slightly dampened what was otherwise a mostly fun film. The genius baby cartoon was rubbish and a few sections dragged but this was in my mind, a vast improvement on Pinocchio and Fantasia. The demonstrations on 1940’s animation-making techniques was interesting and delivered in a highly entertaining way. I think it’s slightly unfortunate that this is commonly regarded as a ‘forgotten’ Disney film, but I suppose it could be regarded as more of a documentary than as a full-length-feature, and certainly not a standard Disney classic. In my mind at least, that’s a good thing.