Disney Legend Thurl Ravenscroft took to the microphone in the persona of the scaly scamp in an album loosely connected to the 1941 studio pseudo-docu-comedy.
Walt Disney Presents
ALL ABOUT DRAGONS
Disneyland Records DQ-1301 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono)
Released in 1966. Executive Producer: Jimmy Johnson. Producer: Camarata. Running Time: 25 minutes.
Voices: Thurl Ravenscroft (Narrator/Dragon); Karl Swenson (Merlin); Ricky Sorenson (Wart); Martha Wentworth (Mim); Junius Matthews (Archimedes); Bill Lee, Sally Sweetland (Vocalists).
Songs: “The Reluctant Dragon” by Ed Penner, Charles Wolcott, T. Hee; “Puff, the Magic Dragon” by Peter Yarrow, Leonard Lipton; “Mad Madam Mim” by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman; “The Loch Ness Monster” by Tutti Camarata, Jimmy Johnson.
The Reluctant Dragon (1941) was Walt Disney’s first live-action feature – sort of (there are a lot of animated sequences). It combines live-action and animation – sort of (there is no actual blending of the two elements, as there would be in The Three Caballeros – or previously in the Alice Comedies). A cute but entertaining film – highly recommended as an early walk-through of the Buena Vista Street studios when the paint was practically still drying — that might fall into the category of a “package” feature of the 1940’s; a collection of bits and pieces, but is neither fish nor fowl (at least The Reluctant Dragon had a coherent story thread tying the whole thing together, unlike the package films that followed it – and thus defying even that categorization).
The 1966 Disneyland Records LP, All About Dragons is also a group of story elements, songs and continuity. It’s tied together by narration by the great Thurl Ravenscroft (The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Chuck Jones’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Snoopy, Come Home and countless others).
Ravenscroft narrates in an effected British accent suggesting Barnett Parker’s vocal performance as the Reluctant Dragon in the 1941 feature’s animated sequence, but even that is a tricky issue. When he introduces “The Reluctant Dragon” song (a lengthier version than the one in the film, yet different than the rendition by Mitch Miller’s Sandpipers on Golden Records), he refers to this dragon in the third person, as if that isn’t him. Later, on side two, he explains how to create your own “do-it-yourself” dragon and suggests using “his” image from the on the album cover, which is the dragon from the film.
In the manner of many Jimmy Johnson-penned album narrations of the mid- to late ’60s such as Blackbeard’s Ghost and The Love Bug, the dragon’s narration starts as a verbose monologue and then thins out in favor of the dialogue, songs or other material. On side one of All About Dragons, Ravenscroft character speaks for a few minutes about his legendary origins, including his prehistoric ancestry. He also, as mentioned above, introduces the Penner/Wolcott/Hee tune from the movie. Some of the lyrics are printed on the back cover of the album, which also includes a drawing of Sir Giles as well as the movie dragon.
Side two offers more variety than side one. The dragon explains how to make a “do-it-yourself” homemade dragon, introduces the hit song, “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” and a sequence from the Disneyland story album of The Sword in the Stone. This is the “wizard’s duel” sequence, superbly re-created for records with the original voice cast. For many years, this was the only way listeners could enjoy any of the vinyl story version of The Sword in the Stone. For some odd reason, the song album (a very short LP) was reissued but the story album was not. That alone made All About Dragons worth having.
Ravenscroft finishes off the disc with a Johnson/Camarata original about the Loch Ness Monster; a ditty that suggests the creature is actually a dragon taking a bath.
All About Dragons sold in stores well into the early ’80s and was available briefly in the mid-‘70s as a Storyteller series album retitled Dragons and Dinosaurs. The record was exactly the same, but a new cover was combined with a storybook featuring some nicely stylized illustrations that, however, lessened any relation between the recording and 1941’s Reluctant Dragon other than the presence of the song.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“All About Dragons”
Note Thurl Ravenscroft’s ability to deftly shade the two dragons—his narrator and the one in the song—as well as his versatility as a speaker and singer throughout the LP.