Disney100: The Reluctant Dragon
Starting with a mystery.
As you may have heard, it’s the 100th anniversary of the Walt Disney Company. These days, of course, Disney looms large over the entire entertainment industry, in ways that Walt Disney himself likely couldn’t have envisioned. Context — as we like to say here — is key. The Walt Disney Company that you and I are familiar with is a juggernaut beyond belief, boasting some of the most popular films of all time among its intellectual property, as well as worldwide theme-park resorts that set the tone for how all amusement parks operate, or at least serve as a bar against which to compare those other parks.
But the Disney of today, the one embracing its centenary so much as to redo its own studio logo placed in front of live-action and animated fare, is not the Disney that existed in its first two decades. At that time, Disney was much closer to the little studio that could. It took 14 years of working through various manner of short animated films for Disney and his animators to collaborate on a feature-length animated film, itself a true gamble that could have been the death knell instead of a triumph.
Of course, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a triumph. And when you look at the Disney Golden Age now, it’s hard to see a lot of creative stumbles among their first five films: after Snow White, there was Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi. Five films over the course of five straight years, all of which essentially served as the template against which almost every other animated film from the studio either replicated or tried to actively redo. Yet while all five of these films feature some form of creative triumph, few of them were successful at the box office.
In the midst of the animated fare that initially defined Walt Disney Studios, they were trying to break creative barriers elsewhere. That’s what I’ll explore on a monthly basis in the Disney100 series — films that may well fit in the “Out of the Disney Vault” category, but films that served as boundary-pushing explorations of what Disney’s fledgling technology could do. In many cases, that means we’ll be talking about hybrid films, those that weren’t entirely live-action and weren’t entirely animated. Yes, that includes big-name titles like Mary Poppins and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
That’s not where we’re starting. Today, we’re starting with the first Disney feature that wasn’t fully animated, and wasn’t fully live-action. It is also arguably one of the strangest, most baffling things Disney has ever released in its 100 years of existence.
It’s The Reluctant Dragon.