Genre: Fairy Tale and Short Running Time: 21 min.
Release Date: June 20th, 1941 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Hamilton Luske Actors: Claud Allister, Barnett Parker, Billy Lee
he Reluctant Dragon” is positively silly yet unquestionably entertaining. Although the artwork has certainly been bested, the sound is noticeably flawed with dialogue that occasionally can’t breach the background music, colors and cuts are faded and dated, and the picture quality hasn’t received an acceptable restoration, the cartoon itself is worthy of any audience. Every second is hilarious, using the limitless boundaries of animation to stretch reality, plausibility, and reasoning for extra laughs. A sharply creative intelligence becomes apparent every time comical movements and the wonders of squash and stretch are put to such expert use.
Based on the story by Kenneth Grahame, “The Reluctant Dragon” cartoon itself is merely one animated segment from the feature-length documentary of the same name. The full version (approximately 74 minutes), which is primarily live-action, begins in black-and-white before Technicolor takes over for the last two-thirds, and features humorist Robert Benchley with many Disney animators portraying themselves. A total of four animated pieces are mixed with the actors for a plot involving Benchley trying to pitch “The Reluctant Dragon” to Walt Disney; the dragon sequence is directed by Hamilton Luske and is undeniably the highlight of the project.
In a land far away, a sheepherder’s son is alerted of a mighty dragon roaming the countryside. Unafraid, he goes in search of the beast for a friendly chat, quickly locates it, and asks for the latest updates on battles and devoured damsels-in-distress. But fighting doesn’t agree with the giant blue-green monster, who instead likes to tiptoe through the flowers, practice his flute, host picnics, and write poetry. Sir Giles (Claud Allister), the most chivalrous serpent-slaying knight, is informed of the reptile’s presence and prepares for combat, forcing the boy to come up with a solution for the inevitable confrontation.
It’s not just the riotous character designs that make “The Reluctant Dragon” so funny. The beast is flamboyant, frolicsome, and prissy (topped with an unforgettably whimsical voice by Barnett Parker), while Giles is stereotypically English and proper. Each is adorned with priceless expressions and witty dialogue that routinely surpass even the most refreshing bits of visual humor. The dragon’s upside-down cake poem, Giles’ radish verse retort, and the repetitious “goodnight” exchanges are but a few of the gut-busting sequences that continue to inspire comic routines in contemporary shorts and features alike.
– Mike Massie