Disney Film History: Darby O’Gill and the Little People

darby 1

In the late 1940s, Walt Disney made a trip over to Ireland. Looking for inspiration, similar to his South America trips, he made a visit to the Irish Folklore Commission. He was excited to find a story for a new feature. Unfortunately his Irish inspired film got shelved when he decided to focus on feature animations again. Then there was another sidetrack, Disneyland, but by the late 1950’s Walt went back to thinking about his Irish film. He settled on a set of stories from the early 20th century by Hermione Templeton Kavanagh, an Irish-American writer, and called the film Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

Walt’s Irish tale had some of his best men working on the film. Lawrence Watkin, who had written Treasure Island and The Light in the Forest, as well as Robert Stevenson, who directed Old Yeller and Johnny Tremain, were put to work on the project. Albert Sharpe, who had played Andrew Campbell in Brigadoon a few years prior, was cast as Darby and Walt took a chance on a newcomer named Sean Connery.

darby 3Walt was committed to telling a unique folklore story and wanted to keep the magic of the stories. Therefore he wanted to add a note to the beginning of the film thanking the Leprechauns for participating in the film. He also opted not to credit actor Jimmy O’Dea for his role as the King of the Leprechauns. For Walt, that kept filmgoers thinking that the Disney film was truly filmed with little people and the Disney company had gone out of there way to find them.

Despite advertising on the Disneyland television show, and Walt’s magical “discovery of real leprechauns” the film didn’t hit home with audiences. Released on June 26th, 1959, the film didn’t do well and lost money in it’s first run at the box office. Many American movie goers said the Irish actors were too difficult to understand and the live action film wasn’t as “Disney” as other films had been previously. In the re-release of the film in 1964 the actors were dubbed over by American actors but the film still didn’t do so well.

darby 2Critics, on the other hand, loved the film. They praised the special effects and acting as well as the representation of Irish culture, which was often not seen in films. This was still the time of the Westerns in American film. The film never won any awards but in later years it has become a cult favorite especially around St. Patrick’s Day.

The film’s most notable claim to fame is being the launching pad for Sean Connery. Albert Broccoli took notice of the actor and would cast him in the first James Bond movie. I can’t imagine James Bond without Sean Connery and I know that as we go on through time, Walt Disney will be the launching pad for other young actors as well!

What are your thoughts on Darby O’Gill? Have you seen it? Is it something you’d be interested in seeing? Leave your comments below to keep the conversation going!

Josh Taylor
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Previous Film: The Shaggy Dog
Next Film: Third Man on the Mountain


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Posted on November 18, 2015, in Articles, The Whole Picture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Love it, one of the best live-action Disney movies, imo!

    It’s just awesome hearing Sean Connery sing!

  1. Pingback: The Whole Picture: Third Man on the Mountain | Modern Mouse Radio

  2. Pingback: Disney Film History: The Shaggy Dog | Modern Mouse Radio

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