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The Reluctant Disney

One of my favorite Disney classic features is The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, which was released last Tuesday on Blu-ray in a double feature pack also containing Fun and Fancy Free.

I’d been psyched about seeing these in HD since the release was announced months ago, and it was enough to add it to my Wish List, but the other day I came across the Blu-ray in a store (yes, an actual physical Blu-ray for sale in a store) and noticed a very tiny little sticker sandwiched between the key art for the two features.

Lo and behold, it proclaimed a bonus feature of The Reluctant Dragon.

I purchased the Blu-ray right then and there.

Can we just talk a bit about Disney’s sporadic approach to consumer releases of some of their most collectable, rare titles?

The Reluctant Dragon is a poster child for this.

Beginning with their early home video releases in the 80s, Walt Disney Home Video has always mixed a good amount of their archival titles with “big ticket” sellers.  Their very first release was Pinocchio, and it helped the industry (not to mention Disney) immensely in seeding the idea of priced-to-own videos for consumers.

Other titles that followed featured a great amount of archival shorts, particularly in their golden VHS clamshells called “Cartoon Classics.”

Though the transfers to video were abysmal by today’s standards, it was at least a way to see many of the award winning short titles in the Disney library.

The Reluctant Dragon however, first made its appearance on VHS in 1987 as part of the “Walt Disney Mini-Classics” collection, which continued the company’s habit of dividing up their short films into compilations or lower priced releases.

The problem with this release, however, is that there’s nothing “mini” about that film. The Reluctant Dragon, is a feature film from the Disney studios in 1941. When RKO Radio Pictures released it in theaters, Disney was at their heyday, and this incredibly detailed movie was a rare look for audiences into what made the animation studio tick.

That didn’t matter to Disney in 1987, and they released only the story within the story on that VHS (although the full version of the feature is rumored to have been offered at Disney Stores).

Disney’s reluctancy to unleash the full Dragon on VHS, Beta, Laserdisc or DVD continued until 2002, when it finally made its original theatrical premiere on the tin-can series Walt Disney Treasures: Behind the Scenes at the Disney Studio.

Though the dragon himself does grace the cover, the feature was really just treated as being another segment in a larger collection.

Does it make sense that Disney hasn’t really pushed the film for stand-alone release financially?   Sure. The film was a complete flop upon release, and audiences didn’t take to the film not being completely in color nor completely animated.

Also a thorn in Disney’s historic side is the fact that animators were starting to protest their wages around the time of the release.

With that 2002 DVD only a limited, numbered edition, Disney went back to the original model and packed up The Reluctant Dragon segment only with three other short films on the DVD Disney Animation Collection Volume 6 in 2009.

Flash forward to now. If you’re a Disney aficionado, you’ve probably already been watching The Reluctant Dragon on Netflix, where the full feature has been available streaming in HD for some time now.

With the release on Blu-ray (albeit under the radar) the feature film can be enjoyed in its highest quality yet.

Get it now, before Disney slays the beast in another truncated release.

The Reluctant Dragon
Look for the dragon in a cameo appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Humorist Robert Benchley is the tour guide of the film. You may know him better as the father of Jaws author Peter Benchley.

You can see a glimpse of films in development at the Disney studios, including Lady and the Tramp and Peter Pan.

The feature also contains Goofy’s short How to Ride a Horse which the studio released in theaters as a separate standalone short in 1950.

Disney’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad / Fun & Fancy Free (and also The Reluctant Dragon) is available now on DVD/Blu-ray combo pack.

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