Recapturing Mighty Joe Young: 1940s Animation

1940s Animation

The Reluctant Dragon (1941)

Following the successes of Snow White (1937) and Pinocchio (1940), Walt Disney Studios released The Reluctant Dragon (1941). Part animated, part live-action, the film offered a fictionalised behind-the-scenes tour of the studio. It promoted Disney by demonstrating the process of animation. 

Animation sketch for The Reluctant Dragon (Walt Disney Studios, 1941) by John Parr Miller (1913–2004)
Chalk and pastels on paper, mounted on card
School of Art Museum and Galleries, Raymond Durgnat bequest, 2002
Alan Ladd playing an animator in a scene from The Reluctant Dragon (1941).
The wall features Baby Weems watercolour sketches like the one in the School of Art collection.

Baby Weems, shown here, was the character chosen to document storyboarding in progress. The sequence unfolds as a series of drawings. Actor Alan Ladd – who would rise to fame the following year with His Gun for Hire – played one of the studio artists working on the project.

The Reluctant Dragon contested the assumption that make-believe is incompatible with our desire to know how it is achieved. Harryhausen thought otherwise: ‘We’re trying to create an illusion,’ he argued, ‘and I think breaking it down spoils it somewhat. It may be an exercise for people who want to do this type of thing, but it destroys the illusions of the average person.’

Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941)

Mr. Bug Goes to Town is a feature-length animated fantasy produced by Fleischer Studios, one of the few competitors of Walt Disney. More than fifty animators were at work on the production. Thirty-eight of them received screen credit.

Production drawings for Mr. Bug Goes to Town (Fleischer Studios, 1941)
Ink and pencil on tracing paper, mounted on card
School of Art Museum and Galleries, Raymond Durgnat bequest, 2002

The film – whose title is a reference to the social consciousness narratives of Frank Capra – concerns a community of insects under threat from urban development. The cityscape of Manhattan by night is rendered three-dimensionally, with faceless humans shown in silhouette. Early in the story, a discarded match sets fire to the home of one of the bugs. Other perils include trampling and electrocution.  The latter – shown in the drawing to the right – is endured by grasshopper Hoppity.

Two years earlier, Fleischer Studios had enjoyed success with its adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels (1939).  Mr. Bug Goes to Town – also exhibited as Hoppity Goes to Town – was less fortunate. Its release on the first weekend of December 1941 coincided with Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Responding to the mood of the nation, wary exhibitors rejected the film. Fleischer Studios closed in May 1942.

Navigating the Display

Recapturing Mighty Joe Young: Introduction

The Mighty Joe Young Album at Aberystwyth University

Ray Harryhausen: Influence and Inspiration

Mighty Joe Young: Cast and Crew

Mighty Joe Young: Promotion and Propaganda

1940s Animation

Drawing and Animation Workshops

The Raymond Durgnat Bequest

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