This movie is set in California in 1941 (which is also when it was made). Robert Benchley (played by Robert Benchley himself, who was a well-known American humourist at the time) finally gives in to his wife’s nagging to pitch a movie idea to Walt Disney – the children’s story of The Reluctant Dragon. Although his wife is convinced that it’s a great story, Benchley is worried that he’ll make a fool of himself.
At the Walt Disney Studios, on the way to his meeting with Walt, Benchley meets studio artist Doris (Francis Gifford), who takes him on a fascinating tour of the Walt Disney Studios. Benchley visits a drawing class where students learn the art of animation. He witnesses a film score and voice recording scene, where he meets Clarence Nash, who gave Donald Duck his voice. He joins a sound effect session. And he learns how 1000s of hand-drawn and coloured images are created, put together and turned into an animated movie.
When Benchley finally meets Walt Disney (as himself) and is about to make his pitch, he’s invited to watch a short movie that has just been finished. This is when he realises that someone else has had the same idea as him, because what he’s watching turns out to be the story of The Reluctant Dragon.
Glimpse behind the scenes; understanding how things are made; old-school animation; Disney characters
There is no violence in The Reluctant Dragon.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
The Reluctant Dragon shows some smoking. When the movie was made in 1941, smoking was an acceptable social norm and the associated risks were not well known, if known at all. For example:
- Some minor characters are seen smoking, including inside and in presence of children.
- During one of the animated sections, a nervous expectant father calms his nerves by chain-smoking.
Nudity and sexual activity
The following products are displayed or used in this movie: Walt Disney Studios, Disney characters and The Reluctant Dragon.
Ideas to discuss with your children
The Reluctant Dragon is a testament to the early days of animated movie-making and also to Walt Disney’s pioneering work in animation. Both children and adults are likely to be impressed by the amount of work and attention to detail it took to produce an animated movie before the invention of computers. The movie gives us an educational and entertaining insight into the process, from sketching a storyline, hand-drawing and colouring every single frame, to creating sound effects, voice-overs and soundtracks. The animated sections, in particular ‘The Reluctant Dragon’, are adorable and funny.
You might want to give your children some historical and cultural context for this movie and point out that it was made nearly 80 years ago.
The main messages from this movie are that it’s worth looking behind the scenes to understand how things are made and how much work goes into art. The featured animation of ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ also has its own message, which is that you shouldn’t judge things by appearances. In this case, you shouldn’t assume that a dragon is a vicious, violent, destructive beast because this particular dragon turns out to be a shy, gentle and poetry-loving creature.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include creativity, attention to detail, humour and open-mindedness.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about the importance of:
- being curious
- teaching interesting facts in an entertaining, relatable way
- appreciating historical achievements
- thinking about how society and culture changes.