Welcome back to Disney Stuff. One of the great things about being a Disney collector is that there are so many avenues you can travel in the Disney universe. To the uninitiated, Disney means Mickey Mouse and maybe Donald Duck or Goofy at best. To the rest of us though, Disney is a huge umbrella extending its coverage over many, many different worlds and genres. To us, “Disney” covers everything from Pirates to Star Wars, Tom Sawyer to Treasure Island and True Life Adventures, to the Muppets. The Disney brand is far reaching. As a collector, the market is rife with opportunity to keep adding stuff to your shelves. Take, for example, what I’m talking about today, The Gremlins.
If you say the word Gremlins, most people of a certain age will point to the 1984 film of the same name. If you’re a cartoon fan, like me, you might also point to the 1943 Bugs Bunny animated short, Falling Hare, where Bugs does battle on an airplane with a mischievous, plane-destroying gremlin. I can’t remember anything I learned in four years of high school math, but Bugs reading about gremlins and their “dia-bo-lickal sabo-tah-gee” is permanently etched in my brain. That Bugs Bunny line and the image of the creepy little gremlin smashing a huge bomb with a hammer have always stuck with me. That said, what did I know about Walt Disney and Gremlins? Not a thing. That is until around 2006 when the great Dark Horse Books decided to re-release the 1943 Roald Dahl book, The Gremlins and their subsidiary Dark Horse Deluxe produced a wonderful line of PVC figures of these “lost” Disney creations.
You did read that author’s name correctly. The Gremlins began life as a story from the one and only Roald Dahl; his first story to boot. Dahl is, of course, known around the world for his quirky children’s books like James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The book is properly credited to Flight Lieutenant Roald Dahl. Roald was a fighter pilot for England’s Royal Air Force during World War II and wrote his first story based on the mythical creatures that supposedly sabotaged British pilots mid-flight.
When The Gremlins was brought to Walt Disney’s attention, he was deeply involved in the war effort making films for the Armed Forces. Walt and Roald worked together and tried to flesh out an actual film featuring these interesting creations. Ultimately, the film was scrapped for many different reported reasons. The surviving result was the book published by Random House in 1943 featuring illustrations by Disney Legends Bill Justice and Al Dempster.
MousePlanet’s own Jim Korkis has done the extensive research on this subject. You can start with his article, The Return of The Gremlins from 2008 if you’d like to find out more about this curious chapter in Disney history.
For decades, the Gremlins remained just that–a Disney curiosity, known only by those that happened to own a copy of the original book, or perhaps some of the issues of Walt Disney’s Comics that briefly featured versions of the Gremlins. Enter Dark Horse Comics 60 years later. A faithful reproduction of The Gremlins with the subtitle, The Lost Walt Disney Production is released by Dark Horse, known for such comics as Hell Boy, The Mask and a substantial list of Star Wars titles. Famed film historian and tremendous Disney fan Leonard Maltin handles the book’s introduction and provides us with sufficient background on the history of these characters.
The book is really beautifully done. Much respect was obviously given to restoring the original artwork and presenting it to today’s readers. It truly makes you wish that the film project took place, either in its original version–which was to be a mix of live action and animated Gremlins, or the second, never realized possibility; an animated short.
Let’s take a look at some of the wonderful illustrations from the book:
While the full color illustrations are quite nice, it's the simple line drawings of the Gremlins that I tend to enjoy the most:
Along with the book, Dark Horse Deluxe released a set of figures based on the Bill Justice and Al Dempster drawings. Nine small (3½ inch) figures and two larger (8 inch) figures were released in all. I was very happy to stumble across the Gremlin Rufus set at my favorite comic/action figure shop here on Long Island.
Here’s a closer look at the Gremlin Rufus PVC figures:
The book and the figures are readily available online and at very fair prices. The original book from 1943 is still a prized item and commands a pretty hefty price if found in good condition. I’m thrilled to own the Dark Horse version. It shed some light on a little known piece of Disney history that I was previously unaware of and am now very fond of. It’s a great little story. If you’re a fan of Roald Dahl or Disney or both–or, if you're like me and only remember the Bugs Bunny gremlin, find one of these books and see where the original idea for The Gremlins came from. You won’t be disappointed.
If you’re a Disney figure collector, the PVC sets will make a nice addition to your collection. They are characters in the Disney family that maybe you didn’t know about and at the very least you just don’t see very often. Although, major kudos should be given to the design team behind the recent Epic Mickey Wii game for including The Gremlins and making them such an important part of the action.
The Gremlins are proof that the Disney collecting universe can take you down some very interesting and diverse roads as you try to fill that insatiable need we all have for more and more Disney Stuff.
Thanks for reading, keep sending in your comments and I’ll see you next time with more of that great Disney Stuff.
(Send an email to Chris Barry)
Chris Barry lives on Long Island in New York with his wife and three kids. He has had a lifelong love of cartoons, comics and animation. Those who know him well say he has truly, "earned his Disney PhD." Chris has been involved with Television Production for 20 years and began his career working with The Muppets at Jim Henson Productions in NYC. Currently teaching TV Production to high school students, Chris has been writing about many different facets of The Walt Disney Company for several years now.