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The Small One is my most strongly held Christmas movie tradition

Updated on December 23, 2011

The Don Bluth-directed, animated short, The Small One, is truthfully my longest held, most favoritest Christmas movie tradition. As I grew up, we had a VHS copy that had been recorded from TV, and I can't even begin to estimate how many times I'd watched that one.

The Small One is set in Nazareth just before the meridian of time and follows a young boy (Sean Marshall) and his best friend: an aging donkey, affectionately named Small One. Small One can no longer carry a heavy enough load to pay for his feed, so the boy's father (Olan Soule) has decided that Small One must be sold for a piece of silver. The boy takes his best friend in to town to find a good home for him, but everybody he talks to either ridicules the old donkey or has less than ideal plans for him. In the end, as night falls, the boy meets a kind man named Joseph (Gordon Jump), who needs a donkey to carry his wife to Bethlehem. The sale is made and the boy knows his friend is in gentle hands.

This one was directed by Don Bluth and assistant-directed by Richard Rich back before they both left Disney to work on their own projects. (Bluth ended up behind such movies as An American Tail and The Land Before Time, while Richard Rich gave us The Swan Princess and a series of animated videos based on scriptures and American history.)

Then there's the music by Robert F. Brunner. It rolls around in my head every holiday season. I absolutely love it.

Now, for those of you who don't already have this one in your library, availability can be a problem. There are used copies on VHS and a couple DVDs released with this one bundled along with other Christmas shorts. The VHS is out of print, but you can get used copies if you look around. And if you can get a good copy for a good price, go for it.

It's better.

That's because the DVD version has been changed.

That's right. Disney George-Lucas'd a 1978, 26 minute Christmas short. But what did they do and why?

There's a trio of bankers that shows up periodically throughout the film. They sing about doing what they must to get people's money in their pockets. In the original film, there's a line that says "We never ever fail when we go to make a sail. We simply cheat a little if we must." In the DVD version that line now says "We never ever fail when we go to make a sail. We work a little harder if we must."

This change is frustrating to me for two reasons. First off, one of the original singers of that song was Thurl Ravenscroft and his wonderfully deep and booming voice. To change that one line, the song has been re-recorded with new singers. You can still hear Ravenscroft elsewhere, voicing other characters, and the last line of the song has been left alone, but having grown up on the original, it just stands out to me every time it's supposed to be Ravenscroft but no longer is.

But also, the line was changed because they felt it was playing too strongly on a certain Jewish stereotype. But the fact was that the line wasn't antiSemitic. All the characters in this film—except for one Roman soldier—are Jewish. The line was anti-banker. Are they now a protected demographic? What's next? No lawyer jokes? Politicians? Idiots?

Where does it end?

Anyway, even with the changed line, the film is great. It's very touching and I watch it every year. I personally think everybody should.

This one gets a 10 / 10.

The Small One is rated G and is a wonderful addition to anyone's holiday highlights reel.


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