Cover of Roald Dahl's 'Gremlins' book.


Original Medium: Folklore
Published by: inapplicable
First Appeared: World War II
Creator: inapplicable
If this site is enjoyable or useful to you,
Please contribute to its necessary financial support. or PayPal

Gremlins, as everyone knows, are a product of folklore, just like elves, gnomes and leprechauns. Relatively few people, however, know that unlike those other versions of little men, gremlin tales go back only as far as …

continued below

… World War II. The gremlins of myth and legend, which first gained currency in Britain's Royal Air Force, are mischievous sprites who specialize in sabotaging aircraft.

During the early days of the war, children's author Roald Dahl heard stories of gremlins told by British airmen serving in the Middle East, and wrote a book about them. Before it was even published, the book came to the attention of Walt Disney, who thought it would be a good basis for an animated feature. Disney's PR department put a great deal of effort into spreading gremlin lore on the western side of the Atlantic; and when, in 1943, the book came out, Disney's name was more prominent on the cover than Dahl's own.

An interesting manifestation of Disney's gremlins appeared in the comic book Walt Disney's Comics & Stories. For eight issues, appearing in 1943 and '44, Walt Kelly, who would later achieve fame for Pogo, did a series of very short pantomime stories about the mischievous pranks of Gremlin Gus.

But Disney didn't own the concept, and before work on his feature had gone far, other studios started getting into the act. Disney managed to induce MGM, Universal and Columbia to abandon their gremliny plans, but Warner Bros. released two short cartoons containing gremlins. Both were directed by Robert Clampett, best known today as the creator of Beany & Cecil, who had already made a name for himself for his work on Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and other familiar Warner characters.

In the first of them, Falling Hare (1943), the terrible menace they represent is evident in the fact that they manage to terrify even Bugs Bunny, famous for his aplomb in the face of danger. But by far, the better known of Clampett's two treatments is Russian Rhapsody (1944), in which the only otherwise familiar character is Hitler — who personally undertakes a bombing mission to Russia, unaware beforehand that his airplane is infested with gremlins.

Because of this dilution of the property, and also because the PR campaign had succeeded to the point where gremlins appeared to be a fad that would peak too soon to do the feature any good, Disney cancelled the project before any actual animation was made. But the momentum of that campaign continued, and gremlins eventually became just another part of our culture. By the time the 1984 feature film of that name appeared, everyone simply "knew" that gremlins had been with us as long as trolls and goblins. Very few associate the word with Disney, Dahl, Clampett, or for that matter, aircraft.


BACK to Don Markstein's Toonopedia™ Home Page
Today in Toons: Every day's an anniversary!


This site is a member of WebRing.
To browse visit Here.


Purchase Disney Merchandise Online

Text ©2000-06 Donald D. Markstein. Art © The Walt Disney Co.