Walt Disney was on an upward projection as the success of Snow White allowed for his studio to relocate and become a haven for Walt. The idea was to make the best environment for all of his staff with living arrangements, entertainment, gymnasiums and anything that Walt found would be endearing to everyone. The problem is that the amazing facilities were not available to everyone, it was a faulty system based on hierarchy. Before Snow White, the studio offered bonuses to the staff when the animated shorts proved successful, but these bonuses went out the door to allow for the development of the new studio. Staff at the top were awarded wages as high as $200-$300 per week, while at the bottom staff were earning $12 per week. The staff at the top could get their meals provided for free throughout the day, while the rest had to pay absurd prices. It’s no surprise that after the successful unionization of other animated studios that Disney would be next.
Disney was the best-animated studio to work for before every other studio became unionized, but times were changing. From within, employees started becoming disgruntled and went on strike. After five weeks Disney had to give in to them. Walt felt betrayed as he spent so long creating what he thought was an idealistic career path for his company that he thought he knew better. Even after things began to settle Walt would always remember that his people turned on him, and he would always carry that from then on and seek to slowly remove those that fought for it in the strike. Walt would go so far as saying that the strikers were communists and some of who would be blacklisted. During the strike Disney released The Reluctant Dragon, and the entire film is essentially an advert for the amazing way of life and work for the Disney studios. In the end, The Reluctant Dragon was slightly profitable, although it probably did more damage than good releasing it in the middle of the strike.
The Reluctant Dragon starts with a husband and wife that come up with an idea that they think is a great idea for an animated feature after reading a book entitled The Reluctant Dragon. The movie then follows the husband as he travels to the Disney studios to pitch the idea. Along the way, he experiences nearly all manners of production to create animation at Disney. Between that, we get to see various animated shorts such as the animated work-in-progress “Baby Weems,” followed by a Goofy short, and finally “The Reluctant Dragon.” All the animated shorts are entirely mediocre, even for the time. It’s the live-action segments that become charming the longer you spend going through the Disney studios that make the film watchable.
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this feature. It was clearly made as a way to generate some income to keep the studio afloat after experiencing financial losses with Pinocchio and Fantasia. The Reluctant Dragon segment is the most boring segment of the entire thing. The live-action components seem to be the seed that generated plenty of straight to television live-action features, that Disney would produce after the second world war. This feature, however, would have worked much better as a prime time feature on television. It must have been a great disappointment for many going to see this at the cinema after seeing such wonderful productions in Snow White, Pinocchio, and Fantasia.
I don’t even know if hardcore Disney fans would enjoy this feature in its entirety. I recommend skipping it or checking it out on Disney Plus for a few minutes.