Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Some Last-Minute Christmas Eve Thoughts on "The Small One"

It has only just occurred to me that (A) there's almost no holiday-themed content on the ol' Obligatory Art Blog this year and (B) I do not believe that I have yet shared one of my vaguest, strangest, and yet possibly most significant childhood memories that involves Christmas and animation.  Well, it's finally time to resolve that.

Every year for the five years I attended my elementary school, just before they let us out for winter break, us students were all herded down into the auditorium/cafeteria.  We all sat down cross-legged and watched an animated short film entitled "The Small One".  I don't even remember if it was shown on two television sets and VCRs working simultaneously or if they managed to have an actual film copy (if it was the latter case, then at least this yearly tradition would be easier to explain... kinda).  Every single student in the school had to participate in this odd, unexplained little ritual, so I grew up watching this odd relic of 70's-era Disney animation every single year for five years in a row.

My only concrete memories involve sitting uncomfortably in the cafetorium, going home with the "Clink Clink / Clank Clank / Get the money to the bank" song wedged in my head, and that one year (fifth grade I think) when the secretary who came on the loudspeaker accidentally identified the film as "The Little One" and every student in the room muttered the correct title immediately after her gaffe.

But I mostly remember being a "Land Before Time"-obsessed kid and noticing Bluth's credit in the opening titles for the first time.  Which blew my mind and then filled it with lots of questions I wouldn't learn the answers to for years and years.

As an adult, now I know that this strange little short that runs just under a half-hour was made in that very strange and tumultuous time period for Don Bluth, Walt Disney Animation, and Richard Rich (who was also involved in this short) during the late 70's and early 80's.  It was released around Christmas in 1978 (oh, holy night, it's just months younger than I am!) to accompany a theatrical re-release of "Pinocchio".  And it was basically a demonstration of what the current animation team at Disney could do.  Compared to, you know, freaking "Pinocchio".  No pressure.

It turns out that this would be the final film that Don Bluth would work on as a Disney animator.  I'm unsure if the same is true of Richard Rich (John Pomeroy was also involved and shares some tantalizing stories here.)  At any rate, watching the short now, it feels an awful lot more like one of their films than the films Disney was making at the time, even the ones that had the greatest influence from the two future directors.  Honestly, it's a showcase of both Bluth and Rich's worst and best impulses.  It's not as oppressively sad as Rich's "The Fox and the Hound" or "The Rescuers", but there is a noticeable pathos throughout.  The characters have a distinctly Bluthian look to them.  For me, the weirdest thing is that because I watched this movie over and over and over throughout my young life, it may have had the biggest influence on me back then; I was a Don Bluth fan before I understood who he was.   And I am very very happy to say that it holds up.

For more -err- Bluthiness, check out my Don Bluth Month series.


Sketch of the Day!  Happy Holidays to all!

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