Teaching with the Disney Movie The Reluctant Dragon
Walt Disney Animated The Reluctant Dragon
Photo cover of The Reluctant Dragon DVD


Per FTC disclosure: This site contains affiliate links.  Storytellers have the ability to take any story, good or bad, and make them unforgettable. Walt Disney was that kind of raconteur. He could take a bad story, a mediocre story, a good story or a great story and weave it into something better. He even had the ability to take music, arrange it with a story and make it magnificent. And today I bring you one of the great storyteller’s projects. Teaching with the Disney movie The Reluctant Dragon will prove to be a treat for both you and your children.

The Reluctant Dragon is a splendid children’s story that Walt made into a first-class film. The Reluctant Dragon was written by Kenneth Grahame who also authored The Wind in the Willows. When reading the book, make sure you get the unabridged version so you don’t miss any of the wonderful little details. Also make sure you watch the entire film and not just the cartoon portion.


In the storybook, Charlotte and her brother find tracks in the snow. While investigating those tracks, they come across the house of a circus-man who invites them in for tea and a delightful discussion about beasts. It begins to get dark so the circus-man walks them home and tells them a story about a young boy who befriends a dragon. He finds that the dragon doesn’t want to fight anyone but just wants to read and recite poetry. The townspeople want a dragon fight and call St. George to battle the “fierce” dragon. St. George begs the dragon to fight, but the dragon won’t budge. The young boy finds a compromise for both St. George and the dragon that makes the townspeople happy too.


Walt Disney’s version of The Reluctant Dragon was released on June 20, 1941, and combined live-action and animation. Disney carved this story into a short cartoon and included a rare view of the inner workings of The Walt Disney Studios in California. The movie begins in black-and-white, but parts also employed the use of Technicolor.

In the opening scene, Robert Benchley is playing in his pool while his wife reads The Reluctant Dragon. She wants him to sell the rights of the book to Walt Disney and he is hesitant. You might even say he is reluctant. Eventually, his wife drives him over to Walt Disney Studios and drops him off while she goes shopping. He is escorted by a studio guide named Humphrey whose job is to take him to see Walt.


Robert manages to escape his guide and takes his own private little tour of the studio. He heads into a door labeled “Art Class” thinking he will see a live model. In fact, he does encounter a live model. You simply have to see the movie to see what happens next.
Robert next stumbles upon a voice recording studio that includes Donald Duck and Clara Cluck. He heads into a soundstage where sounds for Casey Jr. are being recorded. The film shows footage from Casey and the techniques used to produce those sounds. Robert’s next stop is a camera room, and he watches as they transform the black-and-white film into Technicolor.
The paint department shows how paint is mixed to produce different shades of color. Robert is given a cel from Bambi and then wanders into the maquette department where they design statues of different characters. Viewing a 3-dimensional model helps animators drawing their sketches. The audience glimpses figures from Fantasia, Lady and the Tramp, Peter Pan and more. Robert continues to evade Humphrey by ducking into a Storyboard Room where a group of men are working on a cartoon called Baby Weems.
Along the tour, he also visits the animators and watches a short starring Goofy entitled How to Ride A Horse. Humphrey finally catches up with Robert Benchley and delivers him to Walt in the projection room. Walt is screening a new cartoon and invites Robert to sit and watch. As the cartoon begins the title screen reads “The Reluctant Dragon.”
In Disney’s version, St. George is replaced by Sir Giles. Sir Giles is very Don Quixote-like and doesn’t want to fight any more than the dragon. It is also very abridged from the original story and starts right into the story of a boy and a dragon.



D23 Members (Official Disney Fan Club) have the opportunity to tour Walt Disney Studios and Archives in California. However, there is currently nothing like the tour given in the movie.


Florida used to have an impressive tour that was cut short and then completely eliminated. All of the attractions in Walt Disney World Hollywood Studios relating to making movies have closed.

Over the years, Hollywood Studios hosted a back-lot tour that is now closed.
The Magic of Disney Animation used to show a 9-minute film which depicted how characters are made. After the film, guests were welcome to experience a hands-on area that includes animation, sound, digital paint and ink, and tour and animation gallery.
The Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show revealed some of the magic of stunts witnessed in movies. You may be able to find some video footage of these areas online.

Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

Art of Animation offers drawing classes taught by real animators. Learn to draw your favorite characters such as Mickey, Minnie and Goofy. Although geared towards children, adults are welcome to participate!

Art class at The Art of Animation Resort, Florida



Character Training:

Robert tries to evade and hide from his studio guide and while doing so a woman lies for him. When talking about Walt Disney Studios, Robert’s wife tells him, “They are always open to new ideas.” In an ever-changing culture, we need to be open to new ideas and concepts. Have your children come up with some “new” inventions.


Walt Disney Studios is located in Burbank, California. Kenneth Grahame was from Scotland. Find both locations. How far is Disneyland from where you live?


Learn about dragons and the history of St. George and the dragon. Research movie making from the earliest days without sound. Learn about the introduction of talking movies and what happened to silent film stars. Watch some silent movies (Charlie Chaplin) and some of Walt Disney’s original silent cartoons.


Read The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame. Read about St. George and the Dragon. Ask your child, “Do you believe dragons existed?” Depending on their age and answer, have them present a persuasive argument or paper representing the other side.


Record various sounds to try to imitate sounds in movies such as thunder, horses running, doors opening and shutting, people walking, etc. Watch your favorite movie and try to imitate the sounds.
How are Sound Effects Made? Find out at the Wonderopolis website.


Teach about color mixing using this adorable craft by Babble Dabble Do.
To teach simple animation, make a thaumatrope with instructions by Slurpy Studios.
Watch a flipbook in action on YouTube. Have child make their own simple flip book.
Purchase cello sheets and have child draw picture using permanent markers. For younger children, outline their favorite character and allow the child to color it in.


Peanut butter, chocolate, and bugle dragon nails courtesy of The Mandatory Mooch.
Almost Unschoolers teach you how to make a healthy dragon head made with pears.

Have a magical time learning with your children!

Thanks, Patty @ A Mother’s Random Thoughts

Next up: Dumbo

Sources: Wikipedia and DisneyWikia.com


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