BluRay/DVD Reviews

DUMBO

By • Jun 6th, 2006 •

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Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 1941
64 mins / Technicolor / 1.33:1 AR
Includes Games & Activities, Music, and Bonus shorts

An unusual animated feature from Disney’s Golden period, DUMBO’s running time suggests, and feels like, a hybrid between a long-form narrative and the anthologies the company was about to turn out such as THE THREE CABALLEROS (’45), MAKE MINE MUSIC (’46) and FUN AND FANCY FREE (’47). As everyone knows, in recent years there has been a revisionist effort to digitally paint over the grain and uneven color renderings of the old cartoons to create brighter and richer, if less nuanced, colors, which appear to the trained eye as similar to forgers’ copies of original art masterpieces. PINOCCHIO is a prime example – a very European-feeling film whose aura is sadly obscured by broad sweeps of color. DUMBO, perhaps because of its streamlined simplicity, is one of the few features that doesn’t suffer from the revitalization process. It is a film one remembers as being primary-colored, like a circus poster as commentator John Canemaker so aptly explains, and the ‘Big Top Edition’ is a gorgeous rendering of the warm-hearted story.

Much has been made of the black crow characterizations over the years, but they’re really not offensive. Disney pulled back SONG OF THE SOUTH, and re-animated part of THE THREE LITTLE PIGS, based on re-evaluations of the racial content of these films. But he saw no reason to fiddle with DUMBO, and he was correct. Neither PC nor un-PC, they are merely amusing black characterizations, and amid the sundry characterizations in the narrative they come off as extremely positive, being both father figures for Dumbo, and teachers who help him learn to fly. The crow sequences were created by Ward Kimball who, away from the studio, formed a Dixieland jazz band, and played trombone with it. The main crow was voiced by Cliff Edwards, who also created the voice of Jiminy Cricket in PINOCCHIO.

Disney was not overly finicky about this one, as he was heavily involved with BAMBI, and overseeing training films for the armed forces. That, also, may have explained part of the film’s streamlined nature. The score by Oliver Wallace and frank Churchill features the wildly surreal ‘pink elephant’ sequence followed directly by the “I Never Seen an Elephant Fly’ showcase for the crows. I’m crazy about Oliver Wallace’s score for the 1959 live action Disney feature DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE – one of my favorite scores, for one of my favorite films. The musical duo won an Academy Award for their DUMBO score.

Not that I’m touting HiDef formats yet, but imagining them in operation, with the bugs ironed out, I can just dream what it’ll be like to see the redolent colors of these cartoons, in particular the blood red of Captain Hook’s coat in PETER PAN, on a sizeable monitor. Technicolor will be served in the most glorious form it took in the U.S.


Animation directors: Vladimir Tytla, Fred Moore, Ward Kimball, John Lounsbery, Arthur Babbitt, Wolfgang Reitherman.
Backgrounds: Claude Coats, Albert Dempster, John Hench, Gerald Neivus, Ray Lochrem, Joe Stahley.
Music: Oliver Wallace, Frank Churchill.
With the voices of: Ed Brophy, Sterling Holloway, Cliff Edwards

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