Since I promised not to blog about Election Day, I thought I’d ring in Advent a little early with this old Disney special. About half an hour long, it tells the story of a little Judean boy who had to sell his beloved donkey, Small One, who is too old to carry heavy loads (sticks and rocks) any more.
Directed by Don Bluth, it has a distinctly Disney look. The Boy looks like Mowgli. Small One looks like Bacchus’ unicorn from Fantasia. But it also has a definite Bluth look, too, especially during the darker scenes in the town.
The Boy and Small One arrive in town where a Roman soldier tells the boy where he can sell the donkey. He cackles evilly as they hurry off. His directions lead them to a dark, scary shop where a gruff man appraises Small One and offers the Boy a piece of silver. When asked if he’ll be kind to the old donkey, the man sounds like he genuinely regrets his answer and says, “Son, I’m the tanner.”
Boy and donkey freak out and run back into the market, where they’re accosted by three greedy merchants, who, for some reason, look like something out of Reel Bad Arabs. I’m guessing that was to avoid an accusation of anti-Semitism since this takes place in Roman-occupied Judea, but the depiction of the merchants is kind of racist, no matter who they’re supposed to look like. Anyway, the merchants chase Small One and the Boy out of their corner of the market and send them to an auctioneer, who humiliates them and finally gets kicked by the donkey. Ejected from that market place, too, and as it’s now getting dark, the Boy sits down to cry.
Then someone taps him on the shoulder and asks if the donkey is for sale. The pair look up at a smiling man, who says he needs a gentle donkey to take his wife to Bethlehem.
Sure, you could argue that everybody saw (the surprisingly young) St. Joseph coming, but it works. By then the viewer really wants Small One to find a good home, and what better home than with the Holy Family? And yes, if you want to get picky about the historical details, tanners were not allowed to conduct business within the city limits– I don’t think they were considered “unclean” per se… nobody liked the way they smelled.
But it’s overall a charming, not overly-Christmassy or even overly religious special. It’s definitely a good way to start the season without the snow, mistletoe and ho ho ho. Check it out before the copyright police take it away. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGa6oCxhpZA.)