Disney’s “Gremlins” – FOUND?

They appeared in comic books, military insignia, as dolls, and in advertisements but Disney’s Gremlins never appeared in an animated film. Or did they?

There are still a lot of animated films made for the U.S. Army and Navy during World War II that are completely undocumented. Recently a military film collector wrote to me asking about a film he had in his collection that contained Disney animation. The film he said, Fundamental Fixed Gunnery Approaches (1943), contained a sequence of Gremlins pulling a plane away from its mission.

I haven’t viewed the film myself, but I had him send me a few frame grabs so I could see what he was talking about. Take a look. What do you think? Five little Gremlins, with the letter “G” on their flight jackets, with large goggles, noses, gloves and aviator caps – similar to the Disney character designs. Could this be the only Disney animation of Dahl’s Gremlins?

Click the thumbnails below to see larger images of the film’s titles and an extreme close-up of the Gremlin frame grab.


  • Gerard de Souza

    I guess they are gremilns, ones made for the purpose to illustrate a point in the film, but they don’t look like the gremilns for the Dahl story. Gremlins were general military folklore before Dahl, right?

  • Gobo

    Not quite the same — definitely gremlins, but not the same character model at all. My guess is the same as Gerard’s: that they were a well-known military gag, easily used in training films, but that this was before Disney had bought the rights to Dahl’s book and solidified the character designs.

  • http://youtube.com/user/Mesterius1 Mesterius

    This film needs to get to youtube.

  • Peter H

    The idea of “gremlins” being the cause of unexplained faults in aircraft developed among British RAF personnel stationed in the Middle and Far East, in the latter half of the 1920s. It stayed within the RAF until after the start of WWII, when the increase in numbers of servicemen using the word began the spread into wider usage, and when the US entered the war they quickly picked up on it.

    Roald Dahl wrote his story in January ’42 and passed it to Disney in July the same year. Disney quickly put it into development, and had the story published in a magazine in December ’42, and an illustrated book followed in early ’43. Other promotional work was begun, including comic strips featuring “Gremlin Gus”, but the project was abandoned in August ’43: because Dahl was an RAF officer, the RAF had copyright on his story, and refused to grant Disney the film rights. The popularity of the Gremlin idea had rapidly peaked in the US, and Disney felt that they had missed their opportunity.

    The sequence in the training film must have been made during the development period, possibly added to help promote the idea, but I agree the design is not much like the version published – no horns, for a start.

    • dbenson

      I recall reading somewhere — here? — that in later life Dahl claimed he cooled on the idea of a movie, and subtly but intentionally undermined Disney’s own enthusiasm.

  • http://www.portapuppets.does.it uncle wayne

    This is fanTASStick! Here, at the National WWII Museum/ Stage Door Canteen (in N.O.), the plush they sell in the souvenir shop is HIM!!!! It makes sense NOW!! Thanks for solving this mystery!!!

    • David

      can you include an image?

  • http://youtube.com/user/drexelboi1991 tedzey

    Are you sure this is Disney animation? Cause around this time, Warner Bros. were using the military gremlins in their shorts like “Falling Hare.”

    If it is Disney, then I wouldn’t be surprised if they included these designs in the possible sequel to “Epic Mickey.”

    • Kristjan

      Second card reads Walt Disney Production not Warner Bros Cartoons

  • http://www.segaltoons.com Steve Segal

    This is pretty exciting! I hope it gets posted on Vimeo or YouTube. Was it made in B&W? After 1935 all Disney animation was in color, even his low budget military training films. That would make it even more rare.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQjpx-RRT7Y Ub Avery

    Yes, Gremlins are part of military folklore. One of the reasons why Disney abandoned the project was that they could not find a way to exert control over the name and Concept. They created a character called “Gus Gremlin” as a way of branding their version of the Gremlins, but it was not successful. (It was sort of like how they tried to brand the little Black Pegasus in Fantasia as “Blackie”) Leon Schlesinger beat them to the punch by using a gremlin in “Hair Raising Hare”. Supposedly, Roy Disney cut a back room deal with Schlesinger to keep him from using the Gremlin name in the title of his films, which is why “Gremlins from the Kremlins” was released as “Russian Rhapsody.”

    Now, just for fun, here is the link to “Russian Rhapsody”. Be on the lookout for caricatures of Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQjpx-RRT7Y

    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQjpx-RRT7Y Ub Avery

      Sorry, I meant “Falling Hare” not “Hair Raising Hare”. “Hair Raising Hare” was the one with Gossamer.

    • Emm

      “G” for Gus! Gus must the gremlin in the training film.

  • Jim Korkis

    Actually, the little Black Peagsus was branded as “Peter Peagsus” and there were discussions about a couple of shorts featuring the character.

    As others have pointed out, these don’t look the character designs artists like Bill Justice were developing for the proposed feature on Dahl’s book.

    I thought that the headline today meant that the short test film had been found that was made of a real airplane (perhaps a still) being attacked by animated gremlins. It was done to see how a mixture of live action (which would be cheaper and faster to produce) and animation would work. These seem more the generic “gremlins cause problems for planes” but unfortunately we have reached the point where people involved in these things are no longer around to share information.

    Thanks for always sharing these “lost” treasures once they are found. Much appreciated.

  • http://www.lavallelee.com Lavalle Lee

    Jerry is a Animation Archeologist!

  • tgentry

    Is it possible that they are not gremlins but rather critters that represent G-forces? Given how the plane is turning, the G’s on their jackets, the number of characters (5 G’s), the way they seem to be pulling on the plane, and that they don’t share the same character designs as the gremlins, this would be my guess.

  • Vince

    Not the same gremlins but a terrific find–the sort of thing that needs to be restored and preserved.

  • KatellaGate

    Jerry, be careful with this – context is everything and additional screen grabs showing the role of the little “G” men is essential to see what relation they have to the “gremlin” characters is essential.

    The way it looks to me is that you have an airplane in a heavy banked turn (which is why the plane is on its side). In this kind of maneuver, centrifugal force acts like a kind of GRAVITY and will cause the plane to skid causing problems with ordinance and possibly pilot blackout because of disturbances in blood flow.

    These characters may be personifications of gravity to demonstrate physical forces in aggressive maneuvers, rather than actual Gremlins, mischievous imps that cause inexplicable breakdowns.

    From a character design perspective, their exact appearance isn’t important…any generic, husky male character will work. These happen to be dressed up in aviator costumes with a “G” to keep their role in the story clear.

  • http://www.cartoonresearch.com Jerry Beck

    tgentry and KatellaGate – You both have a good point. These characters could represent G forces. This is why I put a question mark on my post – and threw it out there for the opinions of others. That’s what the internet is for, right?

    I’m arranging to screen the film soon and will update this post with further information at that time.

    • Kristjan

      Yes, Jerry the internet is for things like these. So thanks for sharing this with us.

  • The Gee

    Does this collector’s print not have sound? It would seem like whatever is being shown is explained, that’s how those training films work. I hope you have a chance to ask long before you get to see it.

    Off the top, I’d say they probably are gremlins. If they are Dahl Gremlins, I dunno. But, I would think whatever purpose the film serves sort of trumps adapting a book with gremlins, because, like others have noted, it is a part of military folklore.

    What interests me is that three of the guys have gloves and the other two don’t seem to have any on. That is most likely deliberate. So is it an unimportant reason or what?

    Also, I must admit, as modestly as possible, if they do represent G-Force or Gravity, I rather like that, as symbolism goes.

    Giving anthropomorphized characters a Varsity Letter, so to speak, is such a simple way of denoting or identifying the abstract things that are hard to show. And, I have used it before in my work so it kind of pleases me to see it here.

  • http://stuartbury.blogspot.com stuart

    Cool! I have an old book that stars these Gremlins.

  • Kristjan

    Whether or not this is a “Gremlin”, I think we still found a rare training film.

  • http://www.ryancomiskey.com ryan

    I don’t think they share all too many similarities with the design of the dolls. They look more like birds!

    The Gremlins are really neat characters though!

  • Kristjan B.

    Has the screening of this film happened? (direct this question to Jerry)

  • Ron

    I don’t think the G stands for gremlins it stands for gravity