That jolly ol’ Darby O’Gill
At the pub would be drinking his fill,
Earning chuckles and yawns
Telling of leprechauns,
Half-believed out of simple good will.
Not caring what doubters may think,
Darby’d go home at last with a wink,
To natter and sing
With the leprechaun king,
And together they too shared a drink.
MPAA rating: G
Live-action Disney movies tend to fall into two categories: childhood-shaping classics (Mary Poppins, Homeward Bound, Swiss Family Robinson) and severely lame duds (The Shaggy Dog, The Million Dollar Duck, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes). I wasn’t sure which one Darby O’Gill and the Little People would fit in, but I’d gladly place it in the first group, though I doubt this obscure little gem is shaping many childhoods nowadays.
Apparently based on two books by Herminie Templeton Kavanagh, Darby O’Gill feels as genuinely Irish as The Quiet Man but with a more fantastical basis in Irish folklore. Albert Sharpe is a folksy joy as Darby, a good ol’ boy and father of young Katie (Janet Munro of Swiss Family Robinson) in the town of Rathcullen, who loves to recount his stories of leprechaun interactions with everyone at the local pub. They may only half-believe him, but he’s still a beloved member of the community, which sticks up for him against the mocking of the local brute Pony Sugrue (Kieron Moore), who reminded me a lot of Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, just as Darby is like a more respected version of Maurice. After his job is handed off to a younger man (Sean Connery, so young he barely looks or sounds like the Connery I know), Darby has another run-in with the king of the leprechauns Brian Connors (Jimmy O’Dea) and finagles three wishes that might not turn out as he’d hoped.
Darby O’Gill and the Little People has a lot of the charm of other Disney movies from that era, just with a healthy Irish zest that makes you want to dance a jig and crave shepherd’s pie. At times, the Irish brogues are a little thick to fully understand without subtitles, but for the most part, it adds to the authenticity, as does the music, which consists only of a sweet little ballad and an epic but slightly overlong fiddle dance. The special effects, for the most part, are also well-done, consisting mostly of shrinking the leprechauns to be only as tall as Darby’s knees, a visual trick that reminded me of the miniaturized hobbits in The Lord of the Rings. Also effective is the more dated creation of a ghostly banshee and death-coach-driving dullahan; Disney movies have their fair share of nightmare fuel, but I can easily see one scene in particular terrifying the very young.
Most people may not have seen or even heard of Darby O’Gill and the Little People, but that’s a bit of a shame. Where else can you get to see Sean Connery croon about his sweetheart? I especially liked the good-natured rivalry between Darby and Brian and the twist at the end that builds nicely on what came before and rounds it out for a satisfying end. If it were a modern movie, I’d say that Darby O’Gill doesn’t quite do enough with its fanciful concept, perhaps because the special effects could be better utilized, but as an Irish jaunt from yesteryear, it’s an underrated Disney classic that may well have earned placement on my List if I’d seen it as a kid.
Best line: (Darby, of his daughter Katie) “She should be the caretaker. She’s got a tongue would clip a hedge.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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