The Reluctant Dragon (1941)

Directed by: Alfred Werker (live action)/Hamilton Luske (animation)/Jack Cutting/Ub Iwerks/Jack Kinney

Written by: Live-action: Ted Sears/Al Perkins/Larry Clemmons/Bill Cottrell/Harry Clork/Robert Benchley
The Reluctant Dragon segment: Kenneth Grahame (original book)/Erdman Penner/T. Hee
Baby Weems segment: Joe Grant/Dick Huemer/John Miller

This is a weird one. It’s not one that comes up very often and, in fact, you have to dig into special features to really find it. It was once released on a Walt Disney Treasures set (Behind The Scenes At The Disney Studios), but that’s out of print. Now, it’s available on the Fun & Fancy Free/Adventures Of Mr Toad And Ichabod Crane double feature blu-ray as a special feature. It’s worth checking out if you have 71 minutes, but I don’t know that I’m going to go back to it over and over again.

The pretense of the movie is that humorist Robert Benchley’s wife has an idea to make a children’s book into an animated film. She wants Robert to go to Walt to pitch the idea, but he knows (rightly) that Disney probably won’t listen to him. She henpecks him into going, though. (She’s very much the stereotypical “nagging wife.” But he’s very much the stereotypical “lazy husband.”) He gets out of the pool and heads to the studio. Everyone seems to kind of know him and allow him weirdly wide access to everything at the studio. I guess it was the 40s.

Eventually, he meets up with a little Nazi Youth looking kid named Humphrey (Buddy Pepper) who drags him around the studio. Robert ditches him all the time, typically ending up around a bevy of pretty, young ladies who treat him not like the creepy middle-aged man that he is, but like a charming, hilarious dude that they actually want to hang out with. I guess it was the 40s. (They also completely understand why he wants to get away from Humphrey. That kid is suuuuuuper creepy.)

Robert goes from department to department learning about the different facets of the animation business. The most interesting is the voice department, where a young lady is doing the voice of a train. She’s speaking through a kind of early vocoder (called a Sonovox) that changes her voice to be sort of mechanical or electronic. They were working on Dumbo at the time this film was being made, so it’s that train.

As Robert goes around the studio, he keeps picking up souvenirs. By the end of the film, he has about ten things to take home, some of which he “didn’t realize” that he had picked up. Sure, dude. You just accidentally picked up the maquette of the topless “native girl” that you had leered at for 20 minutes while the pretty young girls were explaining to you what these little models were for.

Robert ends up sitting right next to Disney at a screening of their new short film. He almost brings out the book that he’s going to pitch, but decides that it can wait until after the screening. Of course, it’s The Reluctant Dragon, the same book that he’s pitching. WOMP womp.

The short is actually pretty funny. It’s about a dragon that just wants to be left alone to have his tea and read poetry. A boy comes to his cave to try to drive him out to do battle with a knight, who is Quixote like. It’s a fun flick and pretty much worth the time we spent with creepy Benchley and terrifying Humphrey. Watch the whole thing once. Then, on repeat viewings, skip straight to the animated portion.