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"The Gremlins: The Lost Walt Disney Production" finally finds its way back into bookstores

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"The Gremlins: The Lost Walt Disney Production" finally finds its way back into bookstores

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Do you see this book that my little friend is pointing at?


                                 Copyright 1943 Walt Disney Productions

Disney & Roald Dahl fans have been rejoicing for months now, ever since word first leaked out that Dark Horse Books was going to reprint "The Gremlins: A Royal Air Force Story ."

"What's the hubbub about?," you ask. Well, you have to understand that the original version of this book (Which was published by Random House back in 1943) has long been sought after by both Disney & Dahl collectors.  

Copyright 1943 Walt Disney Productions

"And why is that?," you query. You see, since "The Gremlins" 's one & only printing, this Roald Dahl book has basically been unavailable for decades now. So when used copies of this book would pop up on the secondary market, they'd typically sell for $200 - $300 apiece.

Mind you, people used to be perfectly willing to pay that much for a used copy of "The Gremlins." Not just because it's Roald Dahl (Who actually wrote this slender volume while he was a lieutenant in RAF) 's very first published work. (Of course, given that Dahl is the acclaimed author of such fantasy classics as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," James and the Giant Peach," "Matilda" and "The Witches," it's easy to understand why some of his fans might be willing to pay big bucks in order to get a copy of Roald's very first story. To get some sense of how this writer got his start.) 

Copyright 1943 Walt Disney Productions

No, the main reason that people were willing to pay top dollar for a used copy of "The Gremlins" is that this book gave them a glimpse of a movie that Walt Disney almost made back in the early 1940s. An animated feature that would have then shined a spotlight on those curious little creatures who live up high in the clouds, who dine on used postage stamps when they're not busy drilling holes in British warplanes.

Dahl always insisted that he was the very first to document the secret lives of the Gremlins. (FYI: Only the male gremlins are actually called gremlins. The females of the species are known as fifinellas ...

Copyright 1943 Walt Disney Productions

... while the juvenile forms of gremlins are actually known as widgets ... 

Copyright 1943 Walt Disney Productions

... Anyway ...) ...  During his stint in the RAF, Roald wrote this story about these crafty little creatures. Which eventually found its way into the hands of Walt Disney.

Walt immediately recognized what he had with "The Gremlins." Which was the makings of a great World War II era fantasy film. So Disney brings Dahl out to Hollywood and -- working together with artists & writers at the studio -- they crafted at least two different screenplays for this project. 

Copyright 1943 Walt Disney Productions

"So why wasn't this 'Gremlins' movie ever actually made?," you continue. Well .. There's a variety of theories about that. Some suggest that Walt ultimately decided not to make this film because -- by 1943 -- audiences were already growing tired of WWII-related films. More to the point, given the war would probably be over before production of this animated feature could actually be completed ... This "Gremlins" movie would then be out-of-date even before it hit the screen.

Then there are those who say that Walt pulled the plug on this particular project because the storymen at Disney Studios could never figure out a way to make these spiteful little sprites seem sympathetic. Which -- given their main goal in life was to disable British warplanes -- makes perfect sense.

Copyright 1943 Walt Disney Productions

Ironically enough, Dahl's "Gremlins" book actually addresses this issue. It details how the RAF pilots who fly out of a particular airbase eventually learn to befriend the gremlins. How they use aversion therapy (Plus bribes of used transatlantic-special-delivery-airmail stamps. Which are considered a real delicacy in the gremlin world) to gradually change these creatures' habits. Changing the gremlins from magical creatures that go out of their way to destroy British warplanes to sprites that now try to help the RAF fliers. Who then go out of their way to care for and repair the British planes.

Copyright 1943 Walt Disney Productions

And -- in Dahl's story -- this gremlin goodwill eventually begins extends to the RAF pilots themselves. There's a particularly touching passage in "The Gremlins" where these formerly fiendish creatures eventually band together to help a wounded flier pass his medical exam. So that this pilot can then get back in his plane and help with the war effort.

Copyright 1943 Walt Disney Productions

At only 56 pages, "The Gremlins: The Lost Walt Disney Productions" is admittedly a bit on the slender side. But the folks at Dark Horse Books have obviously put a lot of time & care into creating this reprint. Take -- for example -- the many beautiful illustrations from the original 1943 book (Some of which I've used today to illustrate this review) that have been digitally restored.


Or -- better yet -- the thoughtful introduction that film historian Leonard Maltin has written for this hardcover. Which (with the help of JHM alumni Jim Korkis) details how close this big screen collaboration between Walt Disney & Roald Dahl almost  came to happening.

If you love Disney history and/or Dahl's darkly quirky stories, you really owe it to yourself to pick "The Gremlins." This long-out-of-print volume that finally found its way back into bookstores.


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  • I have a theory about why Disney is bringing out this book now. Billy Tucci, of the comic "Shi" fame was promoting a Gremlin related property a few years back at the San Diego Comics Con. According to his website:

    " It is summer 1940 and the Gremlins of Hootonshire on the Isle of Wight have been "invaded" by the Royal Air Force, and they're not about to let a little thing like The Battle of Britain get in the way of their revenge!"

    Gee, sounds kinda similar to the Dahl Gremlin Story, right? I suspect Disney just wanted to make sure that they kept their hand in and got their copyrights updated.
    BTW, Billy's Gremlin comic evidently didn't fly and as far as I know it never came out.

  • I think I once heard something about this, but I didn't know anything other than the title.  Thank you so much for this article & pictures!!!  I think that "Gremilns" could have come to life in short form- there were plenty of great shorts in the wartime era.  I wonder if folks at Disney had ever thought of that.  Are American pilots in the story at all?  Maybe another reason this wasn't made into a movie by Disney was that Disney is an American company?  I know Britain was on our side, so I'm most likely wrong, but it was a thought that popped into my head.  

    Were those pictures drawn by actual Disney artists- did Dahl go to Walt and ask if his artists could illustrate the story?  And, I wonder how close to these pictures the final designs would have been.
  • This article brings to mind the Bugs Bunny cartoon when he meets the Gremlin.  Did that come out around the time when Disney was in pre-production?  That short is hilarious.
  • It seems to me that all the reasons it wasn't made don't apply anymore. I doubt Disney is looking for an excuse to make this movie, but now would be the time. Extremely unsympathetic characters who gradually become heroes - that's Stitch. We can do that now. And WWII isn't old to audiences - it's historical.
  • I found the entire book as a set of photographs inside the DVD set _Walt_Disney_Treasures:__On_The_Front_Lines_. It's a little hard to read, but all there.
  • I have that Treasures DVD...is it in the insert booklet?  Or literally a set of individual photographs, like on cardboard or something?  I just moved so all my movies are in boxes; otherwise I'd go check.
  • Instead of remaking something like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, why don't they make this a film, along with many others that never saw completion?
  • Doubleleb wrote:

    "This article brings to mind the Bugs Bunny cartoon when he meets the Gremlin.  Did that come out around the time when Disney was in pre-production?  That short is hilarious".

    I checked around on this - "Falling Hare" (the cartoon you're referring to) was released in October of 1943, so that would have come out at about the time  "The Gremlins" was in pre-production. Warner Brothers had another feature featuring the Gremlins - "Russian Rhapsody", where they're "Germlins from the Kremlin" sabotaging a plane being flown by Hitler to bomb Moscow - in 1944.  I have to wonder how much influence these cartoons had in Disney's decision to shelve their project.
  • //I have that Treasures DVD...is it in the insert booklet?  Or literally a set of individual photographs, like on cardboard or something?  I just moved so all my movies are in boxes; otherwise I'd go check.//

    I think it's actually on the DVD itself, and you flip through it with your remote.

  • Since the article didn't mention it, I wil.  Dark horse is also producing a 3 issue mini-series comic book titled the Return of the Gremlins as well as some merchandise such as pvc figures.  Go to Darkhorse.com for details.  Here's the solicit for the first issue:  The Return of the Gremlins #1
    Writer: Mike Richardson
    Artist: Dean Yeagle
    Genre: Humor, Classic

    The mischievous gremlins are back! Based on the landmark creation of beloved children's author Roald Dahl, these playful (and occasionally exasperating) creatures have been in the public eye since WWII, disassembling fighter planes and causing roguish havoc wherever they go.

    Our story opens on Gus, a man visiting England from the States. His grandfather's house is part of his inheritance, and he plans to sell it as soon as he can. Even though the locals think the house is haunted--something Gus immediately dismisses--a slick man named Mr. Snide promptly appears with his "associates" and makes an offer. But when Gus declines to sign over the house right then and there, Snide reveals that his arrangement with the mayor will seal the deal soon enough!

    Left to explore the place, Gus experiences a series of very odd events. How did his folded clothes end up in knots? Who on earth would drill a hole in a coffee cup? Certainly not ghosts, but for a former fighter pilot's abandoned old home, it sure is clean . . .

    When the house's tiny residents decide to take extreme measures, Gus will meet the gremlins up close and personal--just like his grandfather, who first discovered them sixty years ago!

    • Based on the classic Disney characters created by world-renowned author Roald Dahl!

    • Look for the release of new Gremlins figures in next months Previews!

    Publication Date: Dec 13, 2006
    Format: Full color, 32 pages
    Price: $2.99

  • Last August, MousePlanet's Wade Sampson wrote a piece (http://www.mouseplanet.com/articles.php?art=ww060802ws) with additional back story about the Gremlins and merchandising.  These two articles compliment each other nicely.
  • gypsybob said:
    "Instead of remaking something like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, why don't they make this a film, along with many others that never saw completion?"

    That's the best suggestion I've heard in a while.  Good idea!

    Thanks, Anonymouse- when I unpack I'll have to check that out!  (I've watched all the shorts and "Victory Through Airpower", but somehow I missed that.)

  • PingBack from http://actionfigureinsider.com/toyfair2007/?p=56

  • PingBack from http://blog.mousekingdom.com/2007/09/13/remembering-roald-dahl/

  • I am lucky enough to have an original copy of this book which belonged to my father, inscribed in the cover "Douglas from Geoffrey (1944)" Its in very good condition for its age and I loved the story.

    (Nicky, Norfolk, England)

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