For most people, "reluctant dragon" conjures up images of the 1941 animated short from Disney. While that is a delightful adaptation, the creation of which also has a fascinating history, this entry is not about that dragon. Oh no.
"The Reluctant Dragon" was originally a short story written by Kenneth Grahame at the turn of the 20th century, ten years before The Wind and the Willows. As such, it is squarely in the public domain. This means anyone can do their own take on it. Like the purveyors of lush, finely detailed animation: Rankin/Bass.
Yes, Rankin/Bass produced a short-lived series that used the story as a centerpiece, with a dragon named Tobias, in "The Reluctant Dragon and Mr. Toad Show."
I actually had no clue of this cartoon's existence until last year, when a friend said I reminded him of the namesake character. Having been born after the series' run of 1970-72, it was well before my time. Apparently, it wasn't syndicated much either. This is something I most certainly would have remembered as a kid!
So what do I do but dig deeper. I knew I was going to be disappointed. The show was going to make me wince. But I had to see it!
It was a challenge to find any of the episodes. In this age of instant anything at any time, there was naught to be had. The closest was the link my aforementioned buddy gave me to the show's intro and end. That was it. There was no more! I reevaluated my quest. If something cannot even be found on the Internet, is it even worth searching for? (Answer: Of course, so you can put it on the Internet!)
I pressed on, and luckily found a place that specializes in old and quite forgotten cartoons of yesteryear, complete with antique commercials. Even they only had one DVD with episodes of "Reluctant Dragon…" in black and white, and it was only half of the disc. With trepidation, I placed an order.
Okay. Putting aside cynicism and irony for a moment, Tobias is charming. I'll admit, here and now, I'm a sucker for doofy, kind-hearted beasts, and he fits the bill. This dragon had a matter-of-fact demeanor that was very reminiscent of Jay Ward's creations. I smiled.
The plots are dirt simple and there's a fair amount of recycled animation. There's even an unintentionally funny cover-up of a character munching on some food while talking, awkwardly out of place, like they were shorted on the lip sync budget. The individual drawings make up for it though by having a more personality than Hanna-Barbara cartoons from the same era.
It is tough to watch because of the horribly corny jokes and needless exposition, though. A lot of the humor focuses around Tobias sneezing fire whenever he sees daisies. While a potentially amusing trait, the gag had whiskers on it by its second appearance. By the time I got done watching the episodes, the shoehorned daisies were outright tedious. This did, however, result in Tobias being exponentially more destructive than Disney's version.
The show was what I expected it to be: a pretty simple affair that had a good heart but lacked wit. I do like Tobias, so I wasn't disappointed in seeking out the episodes. I can certainly see similarities between him and how I portray myself as a dragon, so the comparison was apt, even if we're visually distinct.
I do wish I could have found the show in color. Alas, back then, even local stations recorded shows in black and white, one of them probably being where these transfers came from. Here's the YouTube video my friend originally pointed me to. In full color, no less! I'm amused there's no reaction shot to his sneezes showing if the people are alright after a toasting. Simpler times, when you could get away with incinerating townsfolk by mistake!