Release dateDecember 16, 1978 (1978-12-16) Based onThe Small One by Charles Tazewell WriterVance Gerry, Charles Tazewell (book), Peter Young ScreenplayCharles Tazewell, Vance Gerry, Pete Young CastSean Marshall (Boy (voice)), William Woodson (Tanner (voice)), Olan Soule (Father (voice)), Joe Higgins (Guard (voice)), Gordon Jump (Joseph (voice)), Hal Smith (Auctioneer (voice)) Similar moviesRelated Don Bluth movies
The Small One is a 1978 American animated featurette produced by Walt Disney Productions and released theatrically by Buena Vista Distribution on December 16, 1978 with a Christmas 1978 re-issue of Pinocchio. The story is based on a children's book of the same name by Charles Tazewell and was an experiment for the new generation of Disney animators including Don Bluth, Richard Rich, 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.
The small one complete
Outside of the city of Nazareth, a young boy and his father own four donkeys. Three of these donkeys are young and strong. The fourth donkey, Small One, is old and weak, but the boy loves him anyway. Every day, the boy and the donkey play together before they go to work, helping the boy's father to collect wood.
The boy and his father take the donkeys to work one morning, as they always do. Many times, the boy loads Small One with small sticks, since Small One can't carry heavy loads any more. Small One even has trouble carrying stacks of small sticks and the boy helps to carry them for him.
That evening, the boy's father tells the boy that he has to sell Small One. Devastated, but understanding, the boy asks if he can be the one to sell his best friend. The father agrees and tells him that he has to sell him for one piece of silver. That night, the boy comforts Small One and promises to find him a gentle and loving master.
The next morning, the boy takes Small One to the market in Nazareth. Unfortunately, nobody wants an old weak donkey but the tanner, and he only wants to kill Small One to make leather out of his hide. After failing to find another buyer, the boy and his donkey return to the tanner's shop. The boy weeps, and Small One, accepting his fate under the tanner's knife, tenderly consoles the boy.
In this bleak moment, a kind man comes up to the boy and asks if Small One is for sale. The man needs a gentle donkey to carry his pregnant wife to Bethlehem. The boy sells the donkey for one piece of silver (the price the boy's father set) and he watches as the couple and Small One leave on their journey as a bright star appears in the sky.
The 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 ten 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 the coming Lord.
By the early 1970s, several of Disney's senior animators had 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 storyboard, Miller brought on veteran Disney 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.
Story: Vance Gerry, Pete Young
Based on the book by: Charles Tazewell
With the Voice Talents of: Sean Marshall, William Woodson, Olan Soule, Hal Smith, Joe Higgins, Gordon Jump
Directing Animators: Cliff Nordberg, John Pomeroy, Gary Goldman
Character Animation: Chuck Harvey, Jerry Rees, Bill Hajee, Ron Husband, Heidi Guedel, Lorna Pomeroy, Emily Jiuliano, Linda Miller
Effects Animation: Dorse A. Lanpher, Ted Kierscey
Assistant Animator Supervisor: Walt Stanchfield
Layout: Dan Hansen, Sylvia Roemer
Background: Jim Coleman, Daniela Bielecka
Assistant Director: Richard Rich
Editor: James Melton
Music: Robert F. Brunner
Songs: "Small One", "The Merchants' Song" (Don Bluth), "A Friendly Face" (Richard Rich)
Executive Producer: Ron Miller
Produced and Directed by: Don Bluth
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.
The title was also made available for streaming and download in the digital format.