[This essay was originally published in the Winter 2006 and Spring 2007 issues of Cartoons, the International Journal of Animation [ASIFA International].

The Reluctant Dragon is an odd omnibus feature produced by Walt Disney in 1941 that purports to show how animated cartoons are made. A pseudo-documentary interspersed with animation, the film follows Robert Benchley as he bumbles into various departments at the then-new Disney Studio in Burbank, California.

Although a minor film effort, Dragon provides a fascinating glimpse into Hollywood’s top cartoon factory at the height of its Golden Age. It also contains “Baby Weems”, a gem of an animated segment that was (and continues to be) a rare, radical departure from Disney’s lushly representational graphic style and “illusion of life” animation.

Famed Warner Bros. cartoon director Chuck Jones once touted the “Baby Weems” sequence as “the first of the restricted-animation pictures, and it’s probably the best ever made.” […]

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