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HISTORY

The opening credits of this film feature caricatures of the animators and present their names as signatures. According to a modern source, the caricatures were drawn by writer T. Hee. After the credits, a written prologue reads: "This picture is made in answer to the many requests to show the backstage life of animated cartoons. P.S. Any resemblance to a regular motion picture is purely coincidental."
       Although Kenneth Grahame's story "The Reluctant Dragon" had originally been published in 1898 as part of a collection of stories, a new edition of that story was published by itself in 1939. Shortly after the release of the film, Joe Grant and Dick Huemer's original story "Baby Weems" was published as a book that included "A Foreword and a Protest" by Robert Benchley.
       Most of the screen story development, both of the live-action portion of the film and the animated "Reluctant Dragon" segment, took place during May 1940. Story materials preserved in the Walt Disney Archives indicate that various approaches to the live-action story were considered. One of them was reflected in a Jul 1940 NYT news item, which announced that Benchley was to appear as a befuddled Disney employee wandering through the studio. Although shooting of the live-action portion of the film did not begin until Oct 1940, an Aug 1940 NYT item reported that work had already started on the animated sequences. Alfred Werker, the director of the live-action sequences, and Jasper Blystone, his assistant, were borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox for the production.
       Although the Disney Studio had previously used live action in the "Alice Comedy" shorts, and briefly in the ... More Less

The opening credits of this film feature caricatures of the animators and present their names as signatures. According to a modern source, the caricatures were drawn by writer T. Hee. After the credits, a written prologue reads: "This picture is made in answer to the many requests to show the backstage life of animated cartoons. P.S. Any resemblance to a regular motion picture is purely coincidental."
       Although Kenneth Grahame's story "The Reluctant Dragon" had originally been published in 1898 as part of a collection of stories, a new edition of that story was published by itself in 1939. Shortly after the release of the film, Joe Grant and Dick Huemer's original story "Baby Weems" was published as a book that included "A Foreword and a Protest" by Robert Benchley.
       Most of the screen story development, both of the live-action portion of the film and the animated "Reluctant Dragon" segment, took place during May 1940. Story materials preserved in the Walt Disney Archives indicate that various approaches to the live-action story were considered. One of them was reflected in a Jul 1940 NYT news item, which announced that Benchley was to appear as a befuddled Disney employee wandering through the studio. Although shooting of the live-action portion of the film did not begin until Oct 1940, an Aug 1940 NYT item reported that work had already started on the animated sequences. Alfred Werker, the director of the live-action sequences, and Jasper Blystone, his assistant, were borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox for the production.
       Although the Disney Studio had previously used live action in the "Alice Comedy" shorts, and briefly in the feature Fantasia , The Reluctant Dragon marked the first time that the studio used a significant amount of live action in combination with segments of animation. The live action sequences and animated segments are mostly separate, however, and it was not until the 1945 Disney production The Three Caballeros that the studio perfected the technique of integrating animation and live action in the same sequence.
       Transcripts of story conferences, preserved in the studio archives, suggest that writers Hal Sloane, David Hall and Ray Jacobs worked on "The Reluctant Dragon" cartoon sequence, but the extent of their contribution to the finished film has not been determined. Conference transcripts also indicate that Disney considered including in the picture the "Clair de Lune" sequence, conducted by Leopold Stokowski, that had been dropped from Fantasia (see above); Benny Goodman, providing the music for a special cartoon sequence about jungle animals dancing to swing music; and Sterling Holloway as the voice of "The Reluctant Dragon." None of these performers appeared in or contributed to the finished film, however. The animated jungle sequence was not produced, but animation for the "Clair de Lune" number was later adapted for a sequence in Make Mine Music (see above). During story development of "The Reluctant Dragon," the knight was tentatively called "Sir George," and that name appears in the pressbook credits, although the character is called "Sir Giles" in the film.
       One objective of the film was to publicize Disney's new studio in Burbank, which was built after the financial success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and is still in use. In the finished film, actual studio employees appear side by side with actors cast as employees.
       Several subsequent Disney films are referred to in the course of The Reluctant Dragon . The scene projected on the sound-effects stage features "Casey Jr.," the circus train from Dumbo , although the sequence depicted on the screen does not appear in Dumbo . The Donald Duck scene on the camera table is taken from the 1941 short Old MacDonald Duck . Originally, the sequence was to include extensive footage from that short, but only a few shots were actually used. While visiting the paint department, Benchley is shown a cel from Bambi , on which the character Bambi responds to Benchley's comments by "coming to life" and running away. The action is accompanied by one of Frank Churchill's musical themes from Bambi . Other scenes are underscored by Churchill's music from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs . A HR news item reported that the film's title song was given its "world premiere" when Frank Morgan performed it on the Maxwell House radio program on 3 Apr 1941.
       Studio documents indicate that Ub Iwerks directed several miscellaneous animated segments for the film in Nov 1940, most of which were not used. These included "ghost images" of Donald Duck and Clara Cluck, which were to be double-printed over the live-action scenes of Clarence Nash and Florence Gill. The same documents show that Iwerks also directed the sequence featuring Casey Jr., and that the Donald Duck drawings used as props in the camera sequence were made by the Disney comic strip department.
       According to the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the short "How to Ride a Horse" was produced independently of The Reluctant Dragon and was given a separate certificate number. In late Apr 1941, however, Disney decided to incorporate "How to Ride a Horse" into The Reluctant Dragon . The short became the initial entry in a popular series of Disney cartoons in which Goofy demonstrated the intricacies of various sporting endeavors.
       The picture marked Walt Disney's first onscreen appearance in a feature-length film. The May 1941 MPHPD review of The Reluctant Dragon describes an ending that differs from that in the viewed print: "As the picture ends and lights go up, Disney turns to Benchley for advice. There is no Benchley--only a note and the book on his chair, saying 'Dear Walt: This was it.'"
       According to a HR news item, a press tour of the Disney studio and preview of the film were held on 28 May 1941. The opening of the film was announced for 6 Jun 1941, then, according to FD , was moved back to 27 Jun 1941. The release was delayed by labor problems that had been brewing at the Disney Studio since early in the year, and culminated in a strike in late May. Approximately 700 members of the Screen Cartoonists' Guild walked out on the Disney Studio on 28 May 1941, and the strike was not resoved until early Sep 1941. An 11 Jun 1941 HR news item reported that strikers had "stymied" a scheduled Hollywood critics' preview of The Reluctant Dragon in early Jun. Finally, after four pre-release engagements in other cities, the film opened in Los Angeles on 4 Jul and in New York on 24 Jul 1941. According to HR and FD , both openings were picketed by strikers or strike sympathizers. A number of reviewers commented on the strike, with the Var reviewer noting: "A curious coincidence is the release of The Reluctant Dragon --planned two or three years ago--at this particular time, when Disney's studio employees are on strike. Dr. Goebbels couldn't do a better propaganda job to show the workers in Disney's pen-and-ink factory a happy and contented lot doing their daily chores midst idyllic surroundings."
       Modern sources credit Earl Rettig, who is listed as the production manager in the onscreen credits, as a film editor, and include Jeff Corey and The Rhythmaires in the cast. Some modern sources credit Pinto Colvig with supplying the voice of Goofy, but another source notes that Colvig's work was taken from older Goofy shorts and was not done specifically for the feature. The picture marked the film-acting debut of John Dehner, a Disney artist who became an actor in the mid-1940s.
       The Reluctant Dragon has never been theatrically reissued as a feature, although according to a HR news item, the picture was distributed in Paris in 1947 under the title Les secrets de Walt Disney . On 8 Feb 1953, Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town television program included a visit to the Disney Studio, and incorporated two sequences from The Reluctant Dragon : the sound-effects recording session and the scene of Donald Duck on the camera table. Both segments were intercut with new footage to exclude Benchley from the scene and substitute Disney and Sullivan. In later years, a shortened version of the film, entitled Behind the Scenes of Walt Disney Studio , was circulated on 16mm. The full-length feature has sometimes been shown with the main title card from the shortened version, and different writing credits than the original version, for which Benchley and Harry Clork received additional dialogue credits. In the modern credits, Benchley is not given a writing credit, and Clork is listed as a co-writer of the screenplay instead of co-writer of additional dialogue. In 1950, the cartoon "How to Ride a Horse" was reissued theatrically. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
21 Jun 1941.
---
Commonweal
8 Aug 41
p. 377.
Daily Variety
16 Jun 1941.
---
Film Daily
29 May 41
p. 2.
Film Daily
6 Jun 41
p. 6.
Film Daily
26 Jun 41
p. 6.
Film Daily
25 Jul 41
p. 8.
Harrison's Reports
14 Jun 41
p. 95.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Oct 40
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Oct 40
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jan 41
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Feb 41
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Apr 41
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
27 May 41
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jun 41
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jun 41
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jul 41
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Jul 41
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jul 41
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jul 41
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jul 41
p. 1, 18
Hollywood Reporter
28 Aug 41
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Aug 41
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Sep 41
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jul 47
p. 13.
Los Angeles Herald Express
26 Oct 1940.
---
Motion Picture Herald
7 Jun 1941.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
17 May 41
p. 133.
New York Times
7 Jul 40
p. 3.
New York Times
25 Aug 40
p. 3.
New York Times
17 May 41
p. 133.
New York Times
25 Jul 41
p. 12.
New York Times
16 Jun 1974.
---
New Yorker
26 Jul 1941.
---
Popular Mechanics
1 Jan 42
pp. 34-37, 189, 191
The Exhibitor
28 May 41
p. 756.
Variety
11 Jun 41
p. 14.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Cartoon seq dir
Cartoon seq asst dir
Cartoon seq asst dir
Cartoon seq asst dir
Cartoon seq dir
Cartoon seq dir
Cartoon seq dir
Cartoon seq asst dir
Cartoon seq asst dir
Cartoon seq asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Scr
Addl dial
Addl dial
Story "Reluctant Dragon" seq
Story "Reluctant Dragon" seq
Story "Reluctant Dragon" seq
Story "Baby Weems" seq
Story "Baby Weems" seq
Story "Baby Weems" seq
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog [b&w]
Technicolor seq dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Cartoon seq art dir
Cartoon seq art dir
Cartoon seq art dir
Cartoon seq art dir
Cartoon seq art dir
Cartoon seq art dir
Cartoon seq art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
MUSIC
Mus score
Mus score
Mus score
SOUND
Spec sd eff
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
ANIMATION
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Anim
Anim
Anim
Anim
Anim
Anim
Anim
Anim
Anim
Anim
Spec anim eff
Spec anim eff
Spec anim eff
Spec anim eff
Spec anim eff
Spec anim eff
Spec anim eff
Spec anim eff
Spec anim eff
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Tech planning
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col dir
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "The Reluctant Dragon" by Kenneth Grahame in his Dream Days (New York and London, 1898).
MUSIC
"Casey Jr.," music by Frank Churchill.
SONGS
"The Reluctant Dragon," music and lyrics by Charles Wolcott, T. Hee and Ed Penner
excerpts from the opera Martha, oder Der Markt von Richmond , music by Friedrich von Flotow, libretto by Friedrich Wilhelm Riese.
DETAILS
Release Date:
27 June 1941
Production Date:
live action seqs began 8 October 1940
retakes January 1941
Copyright Claimant:
Walt Disney Productions
Copyright Date:
12 March 1941
Copyright Number:
LP10502
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Black & white with color sequences
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
73
Length(in feet):
6,585
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
PCA No:
6875
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

At the urging of his wife, humorist Robert Benchley visits the Walt Disney Studio to meet Disney and show him a children's book he believes might make a good cartoon story, Kenneth Grahame's The Reluctant Dragon . At the studio, Benchley is met by Humphrey, an eager young tour guide, but is so annoyed by Humphrey's overbearing manner that he sneaks away. Hoping for a glimpse of a pretty model, Benchley slips into a drawing class where artists are sketching a live model, but soon discovers the subject is an elephant. Leaving the class, Benchley wanders onto a sound stage where music is being recorded. He settles back to hear an operatic duet sung by Florence Gill and Clarence Nash, without realizing at first that they provide the voices for cartoon characters Clara Cluck and Donald Duck. After congratulating the performers, Benchley learns how to imitate Donald Duck's voice, but his lesson is interrupted by the unwelcome appearance of Humphrey. Benchley soon escapes into the sound effects department, where he sees some of the devices used to create various sounds and watches as music and sound effects are recorded to accompany an animated scene of "Casey Jr.," the train in Dumbo . Next Benchley stumbles into the camera department, where he views a forest scene through a multiplane camera and then investigates the workings of a regular camera table. Here he is shown how cels are laid in succession over a painted background, and drawings of Donald Duck "come to life" on the camera table to explain how the photographic process works. Still trying to avoid Humphrey, Benchley learns the functions ... +


At the urging of his wife, humorist Robert Benchley visits the Walt Disney Studio to meet Disney and show him a children's book he believes might make a good cartoon story, Kenneth Grahame's The Reluctant Dragon . At the studio, Benchley is met by Humphrey, an eager young tour guide, but is so annoyed by Humphrey's overbearing manner that he sneaks away. Hoping for a glimpse of a pretty model, Benchley slips into a drawing class where artists are sketching a live model, but soon discovers the subject is an elephant. Leaving the class, Benchley wanders onto a sound stage where music is being recorded. He settles back to hear an operatic duet sung by Florence Gill and Clarence Nash, without realizing at first that they provide the voices for cartoon characters Clara Cluck and Donald Duck. After congratulating the performers, Benchley learns how to imitate Donald Duck's voice, but his lesson is interrupted by the unwelcome appearance of Humphrey. Benchley soon escapes into the sound effects department, where he sees some of the devices used to create various sounds and watches as music and sound effects are recorded to accompany an animated scene of "Casey Jr.," the train in Dumbo . Next Benchley stumbles into the camera department, where he views a forest scene through a multiplane camera and then investigates the workings of a regular camera table. Here he is shown how cels are laid in succession over a painted background, and drawings of Donald Duck "come to life" on the camera table to explain how the photographic process works. Still trying to avoid Humphrey, Benchley learns the functions of the paint and model departments. He then finds himself in the story department, where artists show him their drawings and story boards for a new cartoon entitled "Baby Weems," in which a newborn baby speaks fluent English and becomes a celebrity when he reveals himself to be a genius. Benchley then strays into the animation department and observes artists creating the illusion of movement in their drawings. The artists then treat him to an impromptu Moviola viewing of a recently completed cartoon, "How to Ride a Horse," in which Goofy attempts to demonstrate correct equestrian form. Apprehended once again by Humphrey, Benchley concludes his "tour" of the studio by meeting Disney in a screening room where the staff has gathered to watch the studio's latest short film, "The Reluctant Dragon." The cartoon tells the story of a dragon who would rather recite poetry and sip tea then ravage the countryside, the young boy who befriends him, and Sir Giles, an agreeable knight sent to slay him. After viewing the film, Benchley is driven home by his wife, who upbraids him for being so slow in taking the story to Disney. Benchley demonstrates that his studio visit has not been wasted, however, when he turns on his wife and furiously squawks at her in the voice of Donald Duck. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.