Monday, February 16, 2009

The Dragons Of My Youth

I have always loved dragons. But long before I was fully introduced to the hurricane-winged, fire-breathing incarnations of greed and wrath, there was a gentler, more comic strain of the breed that visited the scenes of my childhood. Let me knock at the old doors in my memory and introduce (or re-introduce) you to them when they answer.
The first picture shows the Reluctant Dragon from the Walt Disney comic adaptation of its short film. I chose this picture rather than a frame from the film because that was how I was familiar with it, in comic book form; so obscure a Disney film never was re-leased in theaters and never came on TV. The story I remember reading as a child had the fairy Merryweather from Sleeping Beauty finding a baby dinosaur to keep the Reluctant Dragon company and listen to his poetry.
The second picture is of the "Stupid Dragon" from Knighty Knight Bugs. We saw this one much more often, as The Bugs Bunny Show ran constantly when we were young. Yosemite Sam rode this dragon like a horse, and was always feeding it coal, because it had caught a cold from letting its fire get low. The dragon was always sneezing fire at inopportune times, mostly at Sam's butt. In the end it sent a tower full of dynamite to the moon with him and Sam in it, Sam muttering "Stupid Dragon!"
The dragon in the third picture is the Stupid Dragons direct descendant, made by some of the people who used to work in the Warner Brothers animation department. This was the Jolly Green Dragon, ridden by the Grump in the eponymous show, Here Comes The Grump. In this 1969 show, Terry, a boy from our world, his morphing "dog" Bip, and Princess Dawn try to stop the evil Grump from spreading his gloom across the kingdom. The Jolly Green Dragon was seldom jolly; he had the same cringing relationship with his master as the Stupid Dragon had with Sam. He even did the same abrupt stop that sent the Grump bumping painfully over his back spines to land in the dirt.
In 1970 came the Rankin/Bass incarnation of the Reluctant Dragon, in The Adventures of the Reluctant Dragon and Mr. Toad, as shown in the fourth picture. This dragon was more of a lovable goof than the aesthete of the Disney dragon; he also had an allergy to daisies that made him sneeze fire uncontrollably. This ability was often taken advantage of by his little friend Daisy, who used it to save the village they lived in from a bumbling pair of Vikings who were always trying to raid them.
The fifth dragon, the Lollipop Dragon, was part of a series of educational filmstrips we saw in grade school. We would file into the library, the room would be dimmed, the projector turned on, and the record begun. At each piercing beep the librarian would advance the strip one frame. I don't remember a lot of details of the stories; just that he lived somewhere called Tumtum, taught gentle lessons, and gave out lollipops to soothe over troubles.
Then of course there was Dudley the Dragon, whom I've had an entire post on, and H. R. Pufnstuf, who began life locally in San Antonio at Hemisfair '68, and deserves a whole post to himself. Musically there was Puff the Magic Dragon, who got a couple of animated shows of his own in the late '70's, where he was voiced by Burgess Meredith.
All of these dragons were gentle or non-threatening, even the Stupid Dragon and the Jolly Green Dragon, who were rather bumbling and who you felt would be alright if they had better masters. All were large without being imposingly huge. Their fire-breathing was absent or disabled; their wings were non-existent or tiny. A fun and comforting lot for the young, and ones I remember fondly.


Babel said...

The pink fisher-Price dragon had a smile on his face, too! and then...Along came Smaug!

AlanDP said...

I did not know that Pufnstuf was born at Hemisfair!

I have a collection of Disney books that have "novelizations" of some of their old movies which include lots of pictures taken from the movies. I'll see if I can post one or two from The Reluctant Dragon.