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Toon Talk: Walt Disney Treasures: Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studio
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by Kirby C. Holt (archives)
December 4, 2002
Kirby reviews Disney new Walt Disney Treasures DVD release Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studio.

Toon Talk
Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt

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Walt Disney Treasures DVD:
Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studio

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In Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studio, another entry in the Walt Disney Treasures DVD series, host Leonard Maltin takes a look at a handful of early studio tour films and a trio of Disneyland episodes that focus on, as the title plainly states, behind the scenes looks at the Disney Studios.

This, out of all the Treasures sets, was obviously a labor of love for Maltin; he enthuses several times in his commentaries on how much he loved these Disneyland programs as a kid. And while the second disc, which showcases these episodes, offers the real treats, the first disc, based solely around the stagey Reluctant Dragon feature and two promotional shorts, makes one question if such a deluxe treatment of the subject was warranted.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of this footage is great to see … so great, that a lot of it has been seen many times before in various ‘making of’ docs for the older features. In fact, the first program on disc 1, A Trip Through the Walt Disney Studios, has already been included, in its entirety, on last year’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Platinum Edition DVD. To make matters worse, the third feature on disc 1, How Walt Disney Cartoons Are Made, is merely a very slightly re-worked version of A Trip (which was made for viewing by RKO Studio staffers only) that was released in theaters in 1938 to promote the upcoming release of Snow White. The inclusion of both of these seems to stretch the limits of the concept of completeness to its limits.

(To be fair, this version of A Trip does offer an alternate … and sometimes too fast to read … sub-title feature that identifies such legendary Disney artists as Norm Ferguson, Dave Hand, Ham Luske, Les Clark, Jimmy MacDonald, Frank Churchill and Leigh Harline.)

Also odd is the elevation of The Reluctant Dragon to such a status; this slight feature was merely a stop-gap measure to increase the studios’ cash-flow during the early days of World War I. Even the makers of the film realized this at the time, including a de facto disclaimer in the opening credits: “Any resemblance to a regular motion picture is purely coincidental”.

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A totally staged backstage tour of the then new Burbank lot, Dragon casts mostly actors (including a young Alan Ladd) in the roles of Disney Cast Members encountered by the mugging (and often overtly flirtatious) Robert Benchley, a humorist and character actor popular in that era, as he tries to track down Walt to sell him on the idea to turn the children's story of The Reluctant Dragon into an animated picture (don’t you love it in old movies when they call them “pictures”?). Along the way, Benchley stumbles his way through the various stages of an animated movie’s development, including an art class, a recording studio (meeting Clarence Nash and Florence Gill, a.k.a. the voices of Donald Duck and Clara Cluck), the sound effects lab, the camera department, the ink and paint room, a story conference (where he is the audience for the story pitch for a potential short, Baby Weems, seen only in storyboard), the animators’ office (a young Ward Kimball - the only one who could get away with wearing a red plaid shirt with a green striped tie - shows him the Goofy short, How To Ride a Horse) and eventually to the screening room, where he finally meets Walt, only to sit down and watch the cartoon version of … The Reluctant Dragon.

The film (which starts in black and white and then switches to Technicolor, ala The Wizard of Oz, for no apparent reason) does offer glimpses into the goings on at the Studio at the time … if your sharp-eyed: in the background, one can catch artwork for Dumbo, Bambi and even Peter Pan. Alas, the actual titular short is nothing special, featuring a foppish knight and a fey dragon in typical medieval mayhem. The whole enterprise, with its thick glossy sheen of Pixie Dust, is a precursor to the cheesy efforts of its ilk of today.

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