One day in 1941, while a behind-the-scenes tour through Disney Studios was being taped, writer Robert Benchley tried to pitch an idea for an animated cartoon called The Reluctant Dragon. He soon realized that the idea had already been created into a 20-minute cartoon. This cartoon is the latest animated short to headline the sixth volume of the Walt Disney Animation Collection: Classic Short Films. But without the interesting live-action material and three other strong shorts, volume 6 might be the least sought after volume in the entire collection. That would be a shame, since all four shorts are particularly strong.
In Walt Disney Animation Collection: Classic Short Films – Volume 6, The Reluctant Dragon is the featured animated short. But the three other shorts on this volume all have arguments to get top billing for this set as well. Besides Dragon, you also get Ferdinand the Bull from 1938, Johnny Appleseed from 1941, and Goliath II from 1960. So on average, this collection of shorts is the most recent one to date. Johnny Appleseed might just be the most popular and well-known short of the four. Ferdinand the Bull is the only short in this volume to have
won an Oscar. Goliath II was nominated for an Oscar, but more importantly it’s quite obvious that this short laid the groundwork for The Jungle Book to be created. So it’s likely that The Reluctant Dragon got top billing only because of its length.
Unlike previous volumes of this collection there also seems to be more of a common theme among all of the shorts. Three of the shorts on this set all feature creatures who go against all stereotypes for those creatures. The title dragon is a dragon who refuses to terrorize villagers. Ferdinand from Ferdinand the Bull is a bull who doesn’t want to fight, and Goliath II from Goliant II is an elephant that is smaller than everybody else. You could argue that Johnny Appleseed looks out of place on this volume, but dig deeper and you see a farmer who doesn’t do what most farmers want to do.
The real strength of this volume is that majority of the shorts all teach kids to “not judge a book by its cover”. Although, some the material in these shorts could go right over the heads of younger viewers. While Johnny Appleseed might be the most well-known short, it’s also the most preachy and religious. Still it’s firmly entrenched in American folklore. The biggest complaint for this set is that you can find all of these shorts elsewhere on previous DVD released. But that can be said about all the volumes in this collection. Still as a whole, this volume just may be the most entertaining and interesting to date.
THE ANIMATED SHORTS
“The Reluctant Dragon (1941)” –
Based on the 1898 story by Kenneth Grahame, this short tells the plight of a dragon who faces off against an elderly knight sent to slay him, neither wishing to fight the other, and the boy who mediates that dilemma in order to ensure the fight-hungry townspeople’s satisfaction. This conflict gives rise to a most amusing comedy of errors. The animated segment of the largely live-action film by the same name is presented here in isolation, without any real-life footage.
“Ferdinand the Bull (1938)” –
Ferdinand is a bull more romantic than raging, preferring to take in a big whiff of any nearby flower rather than to fight. His violent reaction to a bee sting fools opportunistic bullfighters, though, and Ferdinand soon finds himself in the ring. Based on a short story written two years earlier, Ferdinand won the animated short subject Oscar.
“Goliath II (1960)” –
Picked on because he’s so much smaller than the rest of his elephant herd, Goliath II makes every effort to fit in and win the respect of his father, to no avail. When the big elephants are frightened by an aggressive mouse, though, Goliath II is there to make sure the rodent agitator has to pick on someone his own size. This precursor to The Jungle Book bears a remarkable resemblance to the then-future feature film, at one point even previewing a few of the notes later heard in the score leading up to “Colonel Hathi’s March”. Narrator Sterling Holloway sounds eerily like Winnie the Pooh.
“Johnny Appleseed (1948)” –
Originally released as one of several animated segments comprising the 1948 feature Melody Time and later repackaged as part of the 2001 direct-to-video feature, Disney’s American Legends, Johnny Appleseed tells one of folklore’s best-known tall tales. Hoping to spread his love of apples all across America, young Johnny Appleseed takes up his bag of fruit pits and proceeds to walk the land, planting any plowing along the way.
Like The Reluctant Dragon, Johnny Appleseed runs longer than your average Disney cartoon.
The video included is available in fullscreen color presented at the 1:33.1 aspect ratio. The quality is good for the most part. With the exception of The Reluctant Dragon, these are the best these shorts are going to look, because of their age. There’s a noticeable quality difference when comparing Dragon to the others.
The audio included is available in either English Dolby Digital Stereo sound. There are subtitles available in English, Spanish, and French as well. The package says Surround sound, but it’s more like Mono sound.
Collectible Lithograph Print –
Like previous volumes of this new collection,the only “extra” is a wide collectible lithograph print (7 1/8″ x 4 3/8″). This one appears to be just a standard printed four-color, box-sized cardboard cutout from the DVD cover, like the other volumes.
Don’t let the title of this volume mislead you. The four animated shorts on this volume are all great. Probably as a whole, the most recommended volume to date. But again if you are a longtime Disney Collector, then you know these shorts have been released previously.
Walt Disney Home Entertainment presents Walt Disney Animation Collection: Volume 6 – The Reluctant Dragon. Directed by Hamilton Luske, Wilfred Jackson, Alfred L. Werker, and Wolfgang Reitherman. Written by Winston Hibler, Joe Rinaldi, Munro Leaf, Robert Lawson, Bill Peet, Ted Sears, and Kenneth Grahame. Starring Sterling Holloway, Claud Allister, Barnett Parker, Billy Lee, Don Wilson, and Dennis Day. Running time: 62 minutes. Rated G. Released on DVD: May 12, 2009. Available at Amazon.com
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