The Small One
|The Small One|
|Directed by||Don Bluth|
|Produced by||Don Bluth|
Ron Miller (executive)
|Story by||Vance Gerry|
|Based on||The Small One by Charles Tazewell|
|Music by||Robert F. Brunner|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Distribution|
The Small One (also known as A Christmas Miracle in the UK) is a 1978 American animated featurette produced by Walt Disney Productions and released theatrically by Buena Vista Distribution on December 16, 1978 with a re-issue of Pinocchio (1940). The story is based on a 1947 children's book of the same name by Charles Tazewell and was a project for the new generation of Disney animators including Don Bluth, Jerry Rees, Henry Selick, Gary Goldman, and John Pomeroy.
The story tells of a young boy, outside Nazareth, who must part with his best friend, an old donkey named Small One. He brings it to market, but no one is in need of a "scrawny donkey", except for a tanner.
In the Galilean countryside near the city of Nazareth, a young boy and his father own four donkeys. One of the donkeys, Small One, is old and weak, and can no longer adequately do his job of carrying the wood collected by the boy's father. The boy loads Small One with the smallest sticks, and helps him to carry them. One evening, the boy's father says that he has to sell Small One because he can no longer do enough work to cover the cost of his care. The boy, devastated by the news, volunteers to take the donkey to be sold so that he can try to find him a kind master. The father agrees and tells him that he has to sell him for one piece of silver.
The next morning, the boy takes Small One to the market. They are at first tricked into visiting the local tanner by a guard at the city gates. Terrified, they run out of the shop when they discover he only wants the donkey's hide. As they wander the streets looking for a buyer, they encounter several townspeople, shop owners, and merchants, none of whom want to buy. At last, the boy leads Small One onto the stage at a horse auction. The auctioneer has no interest in selling a "scrawny donkey," which causes the boy to insist that Small One is "good enough to be in a king's stable." This prompts the auctioneer and the crowd to laugh and poke fun. When the auctioneer attempts to sit on Small One, shoving the boy out of the way, Small One rouses the strength to buck and kick the auctioneer off him, sending him crashing into the stage and knocking it over.
The boy and Small One run away, and sit at a street corner hopelessly weeping. At this moment, a kind man comes up to the boy and asks if Small One is for sale. He needs a gentle donkey to carry his wife to Bethlehem, insists he will take good care of him, and offers one piece of silver. The boy accepts, says goodbye to Small One, and watches as the couple and Small One leave on their journey as a bright star appears in the sky.
- Small One: He is a gentle donkey past his prime. Long years of working hard have made him weak. Though he eats as much as the other donkeys, he cannot handle the same loads. His right ear never likes to stay straight up, giving him that "Disney cuteness" rating. He has strong feelings for the Boy and would give his life to help him, as he almost does at the tanner's.
- Boy: He is about nine years old. Although he takes care of all the donkeys, Small One is his favorite. When his father tells him to sell Small One, the boy is devastated. Soon he accepts it. Though he loves the donkey, he accepts what his father tells him. He assures Small One will have a gentle and loving master and he does.
- Father: The boy's father is not seen much at all. He is the one who sends the boy to sell Small One. He loves his son and deep down, he loves Small One too, but he knows they cannot afford to keep a donkey that cannot carry a large load. He owes money to the Three Merchants, which may impact his decision to profit from Small One's gradual enfeeblement.
- Three Merchants: These three men, one tall and skinny, one medium and skinny, and the last short and round, walk around the marketplace taking money from people, "for the bank". They are the ones who point the boy to the auctioneer.
- Auctioneer: He auctions horses in the market. At first he is angered that the boy brings Small One onto the stage and slightly embarrasses him. However, when the boy tells him what Small One can do, the man changes his mind and is intrigued, especially when the boy tells him that Small One is "good enough to be in a King's stable". With that, he decides to have some fun. He mocks and almost injures Small One with his weight. But when Small One sees his best friend pushed aside, he regains his strength and throws the man off of his back. The auctioneer then chases them away.
- The tanner: A minor antagonist, he kills animals to make leather from their skins to sell or barter in his shop.
- The three donkeys: Small One's barn mates. They seem jealous that the boy spends more time with Small One than them, but they understand that the boy represents a forerunner of the Christ in the tradition of John the Baptist, and they forgive the boy for his favoritism.
- Joseph: The man who buys The Small One at the end of the film. Though his name is never mentioned, from the context (he states that he needs a donkey to carry his wife to Bethlehem) he is obviously the stepfather of Jesus.
- The Potter: The Potter, a minor character, is first seen doing his job, making clay pots. A boy comes by to ask him if he wants to buy his donkey, Small One. The Potter refuses, saying that he's nothing but "a sorry bag of bones" and that he has "buyers by the dozens - and their mother and their cousins". He then tells the boy to go away.
- The Baker: The baker is the second minor character,first seen doing his job, baking bagels. A boy comes by to ask him if he wants to buy his donkey, Small One. The baker refuses, saying that he is a "scrawny undernourished little beast" and that his large and obese wife is a "healthy size", so he will buy a horse instead.
- Sean Marshall as the Boy
- Olan Soule as the Boy's Father
- William Woodson as the Tanner
- Hal Smith as the Auctioneer
- Joe Higgins as the Guard
- Gordon Jump as Joseph
- Thurl Ravenscroft (uncredited) as the Potter
- Ken Sansom (uncredited) as the Baker
By the early 1970s, several of Disney's senior animators had either died or retired, but the continuous success of their animated features convinced studio executives that the animation department was still lucrative but in desperate need for new talent. Veteran animator Eric Larson was selected to head the training program, in which he selected and trained graduates from colleges and art schools across the United States. Eventually, twenty-five new artists were hired from 1970 to 1977.
The idea for The Small One originated from story trainee Pete Young who found the book among optioned properties at the studio library. He developed the initial storyboards at home, and pitched it to Ron Miller who claimed it to be a story with "heart". To help polish the storyboards, Miller brought on veteran storyboard artist Vance Gerry to collaborate with Young. Larson had assumed he would be directing the film and brought Burny Mattinson to help re-board the story, as well as veteran animator Cliff Nordberg to help assist on the animation. According to Mattinson, the team left on Friday for the weekend, and returned on Monday to have their work tossed out because studio management had decided to give the project to Don Bluth to direct. Then-animator Betsy Baytos claimed Larson, in reaction to the news, "just shook his head and knew that he wasn't being appreciated. He felt the old days were gone." In retrospect, Bluth stated, "Small One was something I directed to get the crew busy until Pete's Dragon...[Larson] might have [been involved] in the storyboard area. [But he] didn't get to direction. I think he elected to [teach]." Given the allotted production budget, Bluth composed two songs himself with a third song composed by assistant director Richard Rich, and recycled animation of Mowgli from The Jungle Book (1967).
On September 27, 2005, Disney released The Small One for the first time on Region 1 DVD as part of Walt Disney's Classic Cartoon Favorites: Volume 9: Classic Holiday Stories. This DVD also featured Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983) and Pluto's Christmas Tree (1952). The short is edited in two places:
- The star at the end has been given more lines to look less like a cross.
- The song the three merchants sing has had a lyrics change. The lyric "We never, never fail when we go to make a sale, we simply cheat a little if we must" was changed to "We never, never fail when we go to make a sale, we work a little harder if we must." The reason for these edits is not known; but it may have to do with the merchants being "Jewish" stereotypes.
This short is also featured on the DVD Walt Disney Animation Collection: Classic Short Films: Volume 7: Mickey's Christmas Carol released on September 29, 2009. It was also released on Region 2 on the DVD Walt Disney Presents Countdown to Christmas.
- Hunter, James Michael (2012). "The Mormon Influence at Disney". Mormons and Popular Culture: The Global Influence of an American Phenomenon. Praeger. pp. 58–61. ISBN 978-0313391675.
- "Eric Larson - D23". D23. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
- Canemaker, John (2001). "Eric Larson". Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation. Disney Editions. pp. 78–9. ISBN 978-0786864966.
- Cawley, John (1991). "The Small One". The Animated Films of Don Bluth. Image Pub of New York. ISBN 978-0685503348.
- Pinsky, Mark (2004). "Shorts: Pagans, Jews, and Christians". The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 116. ISBN 978-0664225919.
- Amazon: The Small One, Retrieved 12-05-16