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Dumbo - Blu-ray Review

{2jtab: Movie Review}

Dumbo - Blu-ray Review

5 stars

Announced with the loud and proclaiming carnival fanfare of “Casey Jones”, the opening of Walt Disney’s Dumbo, now celebrating its 70th anniversary, defines the sweetness that is its very soul.  It’s only a moment, but those horns and that theme live long after the movie has closed with their thrilling theme.  It’s a special moment that leads straight into the “Look Out for Mr. Stork” sequence that is only the hint of the tasty syrup that makes Dumbo so brilliantly charming and uncomplicated.  Dumbo, as perfect as it is, is also the last film to be issued from the studio's Golden Age.  With World War II on the horizon, the world was changing.  The studio was also changing and, in response, so were the demands of its artists and its vocal talent; a list of demands (and eventual strike) that would turn Walt Disney away from running his business like a family atmosphere for a great number of years.

Dumbo, then, is the final breath of pure air.

Written by Dick Huemer and Joe Grant in a bid to generate money for the studio after the financial failures of Fantasia and Pinocchio, Dumbo was Walt Disney’s ultimate gamble circa 1941.  Keep it “simple” and “inexpensive” was the motto of the Disney animators and, in doing so, the heartwarming story flourished in spite of its low-key animation and watercolor backgrounds.  The gamble worked.  Call it Disney’s animated miracle if you wish because that’s exactly how it performed; they actually turned a profit and, in response, the film was released theatrically four more times before settling into its home theatre market.

When Mrs. Jumbo (Verna Felton) receives her baby from Mr. Stork (Sterling Holloway) the first thing anyone can’t help but notice is the size of his enormous ears.  Nicknamed “Dumbo” by everyone in the circus, Dumbo finds himself the outcast and object of ridicule.  The gossip about Mrs. Jumbo’s protective actions that lead to her solitary confinement becomes the “meat and potatoes” of all the other elephants.  That is until Timothy Q. Mouse (Edward Brophy), who sees nothing wrong with the size of Dumbo’s ears, decides to do something about it and becomes his friend.  Together, the two devise a plan to make Dumbo the star of the show.

Unfortunately, due to the size of Dumbo’s ears, the act backfires and Dumbo is made the carnival’s clown.  Depressed and lower than low, Dumbo visits his mother and, certainly not cheered up by her continuous confinement, accidentally drinks too much champagne.  After a famous hallucinatory animated sequence, Dumbo and Timothy Q. Mouse end up in a tree.  It seems our sad hero can use his jumbo-sized ears to fly.  Assisted by Jim Crow (Cliff Edwards) and a gangly group of crows (the Hall Johnson Choir), Dumbo is tricked into thinking that a feather can make him fly (because, certainly, elephants can not).  Making him realize that he can fly is the trick of the movie, but it’s certainly something that Dumbo has to learn to become the real star of the traveling circus show.

The blue-eyed sweetness of Dumbo (both in character and in movie) is certainly one of the most charming things Disney has ever produced.  The artful satire and familiar caricatures are simple and undemanding; never crushing the screen with unnecessary detail (just like the animation) and still maintaining enough depth to push the story forward into the category of an unarguable classic.  The film is a perfect pasture of flowers and kept grass; it's also great art.  It's the perfect balance of what animation can do so well.

When I was younger, I felt Dumbo was uncomplicated sentimentality and dismissed it as such.  Obviously, that has changed.  Take the “Pink Elephants on Parade" segment - directed by Norm Ferguson and animated by Hicks Lokey, Howard Swift and Frank Thomas – for example.  Obviously, this rich piece of neon nightmares and color is unlike anything from the era and does more as an adult piece of animation than that of goofy silliness. Obviously, the use of shadows (see the scene where Timothy Q. Mouse's shadow appears over the ringmaster while he sleeps) was far from my attention.  Looking at the scene today, I see just how the German impressionistic horror films were used to develop the animator's use of shadows and stripes.  The use of natural movement and surrealism is also a rich endeavor throughout the film.

The introduction of the blues and jazz soul that the singing black crows bring (singing the best song of the movie “When I See an Elephant Fly”) still leaves me with good vibes (even if some argue of racial stereotypes); these guys are good by nature.  A pro-civil rights statement?  It certainly could be argued as such.  But let’s not complicate things too much with over analysis, folks.  The back-chatter is focused and certainly not anything unlike that of a really close band and such.  Don’t forget, too, that the crows are probably the most important characters in the story as they are the most free and the most comfortable; they are who they are and the world has to accept them as such.

Dumbo is like a child’s favorite picture book.  It’s uncomplicated in form and function and, in being the shortest of all Disney productions, its emotional payoff is great.  I remember when I first saw the film.  It was 1976; the last time Dumbo was released in theatres and my early childhood memories were being formed.  Images from this movie (pink elephants, singing black crows, and Casey Jones) were cataloged by my brain; emotions were created and responses were formed.

One would really have to be a soulless individual to not be moved by a story about someone who gets kicked around only to realize that his differences make him a success.  Some argue that Disney would never get any better with their movies.  While a controversial stance (and one I am not sure I agree with), Dumbo was the first (and only) time I ever saw an elephant fly and now, on blu-ray, you and your family can witness the miracle, too.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Dumbo - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: G for general audiences.
Director
: Samuel Armstrong; Norman Ferguson; ; Wilfred Jackson; ; Jack Kinney; Bill Roberts; Ben Sharpsteen
Writer: Joe Grant & Dick Huemer
Cast: James Bsakett; Herman Bing; Billy Bletcher; Sterling Holloway
Genre: Animated | Family
Tagline:
D...is for DUMBO, the Baby Elephant Whose Over-Size Ears Always Get Him Into Trouble!
Memorable Movie Quote: "Did you ever see an elephant fly?"
Distributor:
Walt Disney Pictures Home Entertainment
Official Site:
disneydvd.disney.go.com/dumbo-70th-anniversary-edition.html
Release Date: October 31, 1941
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
September 20, 2011

Synopsis: Ostracized from the rest of the circus animals, poor Dumbo the elephant is separated from his mother, who is chained up in a separate cage after trying to defend her child. Only brash-but- lovable Timothy Mouse offers the hand of friendship to Dumbo, encouraging the pouty pachyderm to exploit his "different" qualities for fame and fortune.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Details}

Dumbo - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades
Movie
 
Blu-ray Disc
5 stars
 
5 Stars
     
Blu-ray Experience
5 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - September 20, 2011
Screen Formats: 1.37:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1; English: Dolby Digital Mono (Original); French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); DVD copy

My fear is that people are going to be let down by the lack of focused detail the frame-by-frame restoration offers.  Due to its watercolor backgrounds and time period finesse there certainly isn’t a lot of lavish details to complicate the picture with.  Certainly, the film looks better than it ever has due to its 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer as dust and debris and scratches have been pain-stakingly removed.  Regardless of its lack of technical prowess, Dumbo looks gorgeous on blu-ray; colors are sharp and full of energy.  No, the detail isn’t there due to the painting strokes, but the impression of mood and atmosphere is there.  The original mono track has been gutted in favor of a sonically perfect English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track.  Purists be damned.

Supplements:

Commentary:

Special Features:

Highlighting the fact that Dumbo saved the Walt Disney studio from financial ruin, each of the featurettes included on the disc are metaphors for a big whopping THANK YOU to fans and creators.  Full of magic and information, the supplemental material provides a rich history of classic Disney movies.  There’s some pretty interesting archival footage and a deleted scene and song that adds more to Timothy Q. Mouse’s story and plenty of behind-the-scenes moments to make this a worthy addition to your collection.  The set also comes with a DVD copy of the film and plenty of sneak peeks at other Disney titles.

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