The sixth and final volume of the Disney Classic Short Films collection finally found a way to load a disc with cartoons of genuinely similar moral themes. While Mickey and the Beanstalk did well in that regard as far as plots are concerned, the cartoons accompanying The Reluctant Dragon all take a different stance on identity and what it means to measure expectations of who people think you should be against who you actually are. Each of the cartoons does this in its own way – some more deftly than others. While more consistently thematically, it’s also worth noting that the average age of the four cartoons in this set is noticeably lower than those in other volumes; where volumes 1-5 each had about 2-4 cartoons from the mid 1930s, this volume has but one – and its 1938 creation date gives it a stylistic leg up over its 1933/1934 brethren of past volumes. Obviously newer cartoons aren’t automatically better, but the styles will make them more palatable to the Pixar-raised youths of today.
The Reluctant Dragon (1941)
Directed by Alfred L. Werker & Hamilton Luske, Written by Kenneth Grahame & Ted Sears
I was shocked to discover I’d never actually seen The Reluctant Dragon before today, and upon realizing it was saddened. The Reluctant Dragon is so very much in line with my sense of humor in terms of its attitude towards societal expectations and the roles they cast upon people. When news comes to a small town that a dragon will be setting upon their village reigning down destruction, a panic sets into its inhabitants. Well, most of the inhabitants. For one small, fairy-tale obsessed boy, the prospect of seeing a real dragon excites him – until he actually does. It turns out the dragon isn’t at all the fearsome killing machine everyone assumes it to be; instead, the dragon is a picnic-loving sort who just wants to live amicably in the countryside. Learning this, the boy sets a plan into motion that will stage a mighty battle and let everyone go on living their life believing the status quo was fulfilled. Claud Allister, Barnett Parker and Billy Lee provide the voices for the main three characters.
Goliath II (1960)
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, Written by Bill Peet
Preceding the Jungle Book by a full seven years (and quite obviously laying out the style that it would follow), Goliath II tells the tale of a miniature elephant who disappoints his gigantic father and provides an endless source of worry for his protective mother. Goliath II’s overpowering sense of curiosity puts him into harm’s way again and again and leads him to within an inch of his life many times over. His aimless wandering proves to be a truly devastating embarrassment for his father until one day Goliath II proves his worth in a way only he can. Again, the sense of identity plays a strong role here. Two notes: Sterling Holloway narrates and the crocodile from Peter Pan makes an special appearance. So does a tiger named Raja, if you want to count that as an Aladdin reference some 30 years before the fact, it’s fine by me.
Ferdinand the Bull (1938)
Written by Munro Leaf & Robert Lawson
If the phrase “seeing red” is an allusion to a bull’s flair in temper at a red flag, then Ferdinand the bull must be colorblind. Wanting nothing more than to sit in the shade and smell flowers, Ferdinand has the poise and strength of a prize bullfighting contestant – but none of the rage. One day, Ferdinand is plucked from the fields after an unlucky display of force and placed into a bullfighting ring. Despite the circumstances, Ferdinand refuses to cooperate like a bullfight bull should and proves once and for all that you can take the bull out of the peaceful prairie, but you can’t take the peaceful prairie out of the bull. Don Wilson narrates.
Johnny Appleseed (1948)
Directed by Wilfred Jackson, Written by Winston Hibler & Joe Rinaldi
Rounding out the theme of identity, Johnny Appleseed tells the story of a youth who, upon realizing he isn’t a soldier, goes off to cultivate some apple trees in the American wilderness. As Johnny and the woodland creatures become fast friends, the settlers take notice of Johnny and he becomes a legend of sorts. Eternally thankful (via song) for the blessings he’s received, Johnny wanders the countryside constantly planting apple trees so that the settlers who follow him will have nourishment. Dennis Day earns a thespian’s hat trick playing the old settler, Johnny Appleseed and Appleseed’s ghost.
"Walt Disney Animation Collection: Volume 6: The Reluctant Dragon" is on sale May 12, 2009 and is rated G. Animation, Children & Family. Directed by Hamilton Luske, Wilfred Jackson, Alfred L Werker, Wolfgang Reitherman. Written by Winston Hibler, Joe Rinaldi, Munro Leaf, Robert Lawson, Bill Peet, Ted Sears, Kenneth Grahame. Starring Sterling Holloway, Claud Allister, Barnett Parker, Billy Lee, Don Wilson, Dennis Day.