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The Small One was a 1978 Disney short (26 minutes) Animated Film directed by Don Bluth. It was a theatrical film released during the Christmas season rather than a televised Christmas Special, serving as the second feature with the 1978 re-release of Disney's Pinocchio. It was Bluth's last full effort for Disney before he left to start his own company.
Initially, it was announced that the director would be Dick Sebast, a live-action film maker. Sebast had joined Disney in 1973 and had been one of the storyboard artists on The Rescuers. However, after that film had been completed, Don was put in charge of The Small One. (Sebast, ironically, would go on to become Story Director for the Dragon's Lair television cartoon.) Besides directing, Bluth wrote two of the film's songs himself: "Small One" and "The Merchants' Song".
The film epitomizes the split that was running through the Disney studios at the time. Though nearly everyone felt that the studio was going through a troubled period, opinions differed as to how to correct the problems, Bluth and his adherents believing that there should be a conscious return to the style of the studio's glory days in the Forties and Fifties, while others suggested a move toward more modern, experimental styles of animation. This dichotomy of styles affects the film itself, with the earlier part of the film harking back to the style of the Phil Harris era of animation, while the latter part of the film takes on the darker tones associated with parts of Pinocchio and Fantasia.
The film is unusual among the Disney animation for its strong religious theme. It seems to have done respectably well at the Box Office, though not so outstandingly as to make a decisive impact on the direction of the studio over the next years. Nevertheless, it is well remembered for the beauty and grace of its handling, and is arguably one of the best handlings of its holiday theme in animation.
This work includes examples of:
- Berserk Button: Small One is the sweetest, most loving donkey...until the auctioneer pushes the boy to the ground.
- Bittersweet Ending: Mostly sweet, though.
- A Boy and His X: A boy and his donkey.
- Don Bluth
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Hey, it's Don Bluth, what did you expect?
- Foreshadowing: "He's good enough to be in a king's stable!"
- "Someone still needs you to brighten each day." It's not a stretch to imagine Small One being a loyal, loving friend to Him, just like he was to the boy.
- Foregone Conclusion: It's about a donkey in Judea.
- Intellectual Animal/Nearly-Normal Animal: The animals don't talk, but Small One clearly understands everything the humans say, as well as the greater implications of being sold.
- Money Song: The Merchant's Song
- No Name Given: Small One is the only character whose name is given.
- Nothing Personal: There was no malice in the decision to sell Small One. He simply couldn't earn his keep and the father could no longer afford to keep him.
- Star of Bethlehem
- Stubborn Mule: Averted; Small One is gentle, patient, and self-sacrificing.
- True Meaning of Christmas: "There's a place for each small one."