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COLUMBIA TRISTAR

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Ben Sharpsteen
Cast:
John McLeish, Margaret Wright, Edward Brophy, Sterling Holloway, Herman Bing, Cliff Edwards, Verna Felton
Writing Credits:
Helen Aberson (book), Otto Englander (story direction), Joe Grant, Dick Huemer, Harold Perl (book)

Tagline:
The One ... The Only ... The Fabulous ...

Synopsis:
Meet Dumbo, Mrs. Jumbo's sweet little "Baby Mine" who charms all who see him ... until it's discovered that he has huge floppy ears! With the support of his very best friend, Timothy the mouse, Dumbo soon learns that his spectacular ears make him unique and special, allowing him to soar to fame as the world's only flying elephant. You'll love all the daring adventure, colorful characters, award-winning music, and a circus tent full of fun bonus features!

Go behind the scenes with DisneyPedia's "My First Circus," an all-new activity where you can learn about your favorite circus animals. This Big Top Edition also features Sing-Along Songs, a DVD Storybook, a new digital transfer, and much more. Climb aboard Casey Jr. for the Disney classic that will make your child's heart soar again and again!

Box Office:
Budget
$950 thousand.

MPAA:
Rated G

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 64 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 6/6/2006

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary from Film Historian John Canemaker
• “Baby Mine” Music Video
Dumbo Art Gallery
• Original Walt Disney TV Introduction
• “Celebrating Dumbo” Featurette
Dumbo DVD Storybook
• “Elmer Elephant” and “The Flying Mouse” Animated Shorts
• “Look Out For Mr. Stork” and “Casey Junior” Sing-Along Songs
• DisneyPedia: “My First Circus” Game
• Sneak Peeks


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Dumbo: Big Top Edition (1941)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 5, 2006)

One of Disney’s flicks from their “Golden Age”, 1941’s Dumbo holds up quite well alongside its era-mates. The film features easily the simplest story of the bunch. At the start of the movie, an officious-looking but late stork (voiced by Sterling Holloway) delivers a baby elephant to circus performer Mrs. Jumbo. All of the other female elephants - no males, including Mr. Jumbo, are seen - fawn over him until Jumbo Jr. sneezes, at which time his enormous ears unfold. The ladies gasp and instantly start to make snide remarks about the little fellow, cruelly renaming him “Dumbo”.

Our wee protagonist receives love from his mother but only nastiness from everyone else. This reaches a peak when a bratty boy starts to mock and abuse Dumbo. Mrs. Jumbo loses it and goes on a mild rampage. This ultimately lands her in elephant solitary confinement, and Dumbo’s left to fend for himself among the inhospitable crowd.

Happily, he eventually gains a friend and supporter through Timothy Q. Mouse (Ed Brophy). He takes the lad under his proverbial wing and tries to help Dumbo become a successful circus elephant. However, the results aren’t pretty, mainly due to Dumbo’s intrusive appendages; a gag in which Dumbo is supposed to stand atop a stack of elephants collapses when he trips on his ears. He’s then relegated to work with the clowns, which is regarded as sub-human - or sub-elephant - by those old biddies.

While with the clowns, Dumbo’s new act goes over fairly well, at least in their minds. However, it wasn’t fun for Dumbo, and he seems despondent amidst their vicious glee. They celebrate with champagne, and eventually the bottle seeps into Dumbo’s water. From there, he and Timothy inadvertently get trashed. When they awake the next day, they discover they’re lodged in a tree branch many feet in the air. How’d they get there? Apparently Dumbo’s huge ears flew them to the spot. Some crows encourage Dumbo despite his fears, and armed with a “magic feather”, he discovers for certain that he can fly.

Timothy comes up with a plan. As part of the clown act, Dumbo’s forced to jump from a high perch. Next time, the mouse figures, Dumbo should leap but then fly down and buzz the crowd and the clowns. He does this and it creates an instant sensation. Dumbo achieves popularity and status, his mom gets out of jail, and all live happily ever after.

Dumbo stands out among the five “golden age” Disney flicks because of its simplicity. At a little less than 64 minutes, it’s the shortest of the bunch. Heck, it lasts barely half as long as the two-hour Fantasia, which appeared only a year earlier. The styles utilized also seem more basic and lack the intricacy and depth of the animation seen in the other films. In many ways, Dumbo fits in better with the animated shorts from Disney than with the other features.

However, I don’t want to slight Dumbo for it’s really a very strong movie. The plot is terribly thin, but the execution appears excellent. Packed into this short flick we find a slew of well-realized characters and situations. All of the participants are animated well, but Dumbo himself is a true marvel. Drawn primarily by Vladimir “Bill” Tytla, Dumbo offers a tremendously compelling and embraceable character despite the fact he never says a word.

Tytla imbues the role with true warmth and humanity. Cute but not cloying, Dumbo’s virtually the perfect Disney protagonist, as he lacks a strong personality but never comes across as a cipher ala Snow White or Cinderella. Tytla’s a legend among animators, as well he should be; it’s hard to imagine that the same person created the tender and sweet Dumbo and also Fantasia’s truly evil Chernabog.

If I had to pick a flaw in Dumbo, it’d relate to the rapidity and abruptness of the plot. Even with such a brief running time, the story seems stretched to fill the space. Many adore the “Pink Elephants” production number, and I like it as a piece of interesting animation, but I thought it took away from the plot. The film diverts to a long musical number that has nothing to do with the story, and it feels like filler to me. Sure, it’s fun filler, but it doesn’t advance the tale at all.

The film also ends quite abruptly. When I watched Dumbo back in 1999, I hadn’t seen it in years. When I saw the time counter on my laserdisc player indicated that only three or four minutes remained in the movie, I couldn’t believe it; there seemed to be so much more that needed to take place to properly finish the tale. However, the movie rushed through that material.

Ultimately, the ending is reasonably satisfying, but it felt hurried. Granted, Dumbo wasn’t alone during this era. As I noted in many of my reviews of Universal’s Classic Monsters films, a lot of those provided sudden conclusions with literally no denouements.

Some controversies have arisen in regard to the version of Dumbo found on this DVD. I’ve heard rumors that the 64-minute edition here represents an edited cut of the film. Allegedly the black crows received much more screen time in the original rendition as they acted as a form of Greek chorus and commented on events. According to this concept, they were cut because of racial considerations. The crows were viewed as negative stereotypes so most of their material was sacrificed to the gods of political correctness. These alleged edits were made decades ago, which is why virtually no one remembers the original material.

There’s no reference to any deleted footage anywhere on the DVD, and I looked through some Disney sources and could find no mention of this editing. The only person I could discover who made this claim was the “DVD Savant”, who stated in May 2000 that he saw the footage at a college screening back in the early Seventies.

In support of his case, the Savant mentions a number of fairly abrupt fade-outs that occur during the film. I can’t argue with those, as the movie indeed does include some awkward shifts. However, on their own these don’t prove anything.

Was Dumbo butchered from its original length? Maybe, but at this point, I consider Disney innocent until proven guilty. I’ve consulted plenty of sources that make no mention of the change, and if one considers the magnitude of the alleged alterations, this would be a bizarre oversight by all those people. Even documentation of a longer running time would indicate something, but everyone states the movie lasted 63 and a half minutes.

As such, I strongly lean to the side that feels Dumbo wasn’t edited. One claim that the film was cut that comes based on decades-old memories doesn’t do much for me since I can find no other verification of the changes. These alterations may well have occurred, but until I discover more compelling evidence, I’ll stick with the belief that the DVD presents the original, unedited film.

One area in which I disagree with the Savant relates to his interpretation of the crows. Many defenses of these characters have been made, but I find them unconvincing. Folks state that the crows aren’t black stereotypes and that their speech represents “hipster jive”, but I don’t buy it. On the affirmative side, the crows are depicted in a positive manner. They’re pleasant and helpful, and they’re shown to be accepting and fairly intelligent. However, their speech patterns do fall into stereotypes, with comments like “I done seen” and other statements of the sort.

Does this mean that the crows are offensive characters? I don’t think so. The stereotypical form of speech may seem over the top, but the personalities themselves are good ones, and they aren’t portrayed in a cruelly comic or mocking manner. Really, the manner in which the crows talk is the only area of potential complaint, and it doesn’t negate their general positivity.

On the other hand, I’m surprised I’ve heard so much ado about the crows but nothing about the circus workers shown during the "Song of the Roustabouts". The song features lyrics that tout the workers’ ignorance and irresponsibility, while the visuals clearly depict black men. If any part of Dumbo were to offend me, this’d be the one; it seems much more negative than the depiction of the crows.

However, I didn’t feel that this material harmed the essential goodness of Dumbo. The film remains a Disney classic, as it provides all of the studio’s strong points with few of its negatives. After 65 years, the movie remains charming and delightful.

Confusing note: how did the circus people know to call him “Dumbo”? That was a play on “Jumbo Jr.” concocted by the gossipy female elephants. The ringleader might have thought to refer to him as “little Jumbo” or whatever, but he wouldn’t have been aware of the altered title. Yes, I can accept flying elephants, but not this!


The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Dumbo appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though it doesn’t match up with Disney’s best transfers, this 2006 rendering of Dumbo definitely improved over the erratic original 2001 DVD.

Sharpness was one area that didn’t excel. For the most part, the movie exhibited good definition and delineation. However, it occasionally looked just a little soft. I found this to be a minor complaint, but I didn’t feel the movie exhibited the consistent clarity I expected. No issues with jagged edges, shimmering or edge enhancement occurred, though.

On the other hand, source defects decreased substantially when compared to the 2001 DVD. That one showed all sorts of flaws, whereas this one was usually clean. I still saw a smattering of specks, and at times the movie seemed a bit grimy, but neither concern created real distractions. “Pink Elephants on Parade” was the sequence with the most specks, and even it was generally clear.

Overall, the colors seemed to be rich and vivid. With its circus setting, Dumbo offered a nice variety of hues, and they were acceptably clear and distinctive much of the time. I sometimes thought they might have been able to deliver a little more power, but they were very good on average. Black levels came across as nicely deep and dense, and shadow detail was appropriately opaque without excessive thickness. Compared to most 65-year-old movies, Dumbo looked amazing. Compared to Disney’s exceedingly high standards, though, Dumbo wasn’t quite so great. Nonetheless, it was a genuine step up from its 2001 counterpart and positive enough for a “B+”.

Dumbo included the same Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack found on the 2001 DVD. This meant a missed opportunity. Disney could – and should – have used this re-release to present the movie’s original monaural mix. Its absence remained a disappointment, for while the 5.1 track was decent, I like to have the option to listen to the theatrical audio as well.

For the most part, the soundfield kept fairly centered, as music composed the majority of the stereo elements. The score spread across the front and toward the rear, and it did so in a moderately satisfactory manner. However, I thought the delineation of the music seemed somewhat weak. Differentiation of instrumentation came across as muddy; the score appeared to come from all around me, but it lacked much definition and sounded vague.

The same issue occurred in regard to effects. Not many of these departed the center channel, but the side and rears became mildly active on a few occasions, most notably during thunderstorms. Those opened up the imaging decently, though they also lacked much spatial definition. Nonetheless, I felt the soundfield broadened the spectrum in an acceptably subdued and modest manner, so while I’d still prefer the mono track, I had few complaints about the re-imaging.

Audio quality seemed generally good for the age of the material. Speech largely sounded acceptably distinct, but dialogue came across as somewhat brittle and sibilant on occasion. This edginess made the lines seem less than natural, but I discerned no concerns related to intelligibility. Effects showed minor harshness at times, but the usually appeared to be fairly clear and accurate, and they even provided some good depth on occasion; for example, the thunderstorms provided nice low-end response.

Music demonstrated similar qualities. The high end seemed somewhat thin and shrill, but the score remained acceptably clean for the most part, and the bass elements sounded decent for their age. I heard a smidgen of background noise on a few occasions, but for the most part, the audio remained free from defects. Ultimately, the soundtrack of Dumbo appeared relatively positive for its age, but it wasn’t anything special.

This “Big Top Edition” mixes old supplements with new materials. Anything that also didn’t appear on the 2001 DVD will receive an asterisk. If you fail to see a star, then the component is new to this set.

First we discover a running, screen-specific audio commentary from animation historian John Canemaker. He also appeared on the tracks for Snow White and Fantasia, but in those instances he spoke alongside archival audio of Walt Disney as Canemaker helped frame the boss’ remarks and add some perspective.

For Dumbo, Canemaker sits alone, and he does a fairly nice job. He really does function as a historian here, mainly through statements that tell us more about the animators and their work. Canemaker neatly relates which artists worked on which characters and shots, and he adds brief but useful biographical information about them as well. While those aspects take up most of the commentary, Canemaker also reveals a fair amount of information about the rest of the production. I most enjoyed his notes about Disney’s involvement in the project. For years, it’s been believed that Walt had little to do with Dumbo, but Canemaker reveals that Disney did more than many think. Overall, Canemaker offers a good look at Dumbo that seems informative and helpful.

Less compelling is Celebrating Dumbo, a featurette that definitely lives up to its title. In this 14-minute and 50-second piece, we hear from a slew of Dumbo fans as they tell us how much they love the film. This roster includes critics and historians such as Canemaker, Leonard Maltin, and Rudy Behlmer plus Roy Disney and modern Disney staff like Andreas Deja, Don Hahn, and Ron Clements.

They relate why they think Dumbo is such a special movie, and we also see some clips from the flick. The tone seems too heavy on praise and too light on details. A few tidbits about the production emerge, and it’s nice to hear a professional perspective from the Disney personnel, but these don’t constitute much of the program. Ultimately, the show is moderately entertaining, mostly because the participants demonstrate such enthusiasm for the movie, but the program lacks much informational value; it doesn’t substitute for a true documentary.

In the Dumbo Art Gallery we find a nice collection of stills. Subsumed into seven different categories, each subheading includes between nine and 73 frames each for a total of 168 shots of material. The images found on Dumbo are quite interesting to see, as they cover the usual array of concept art, character sketches and other pictures.

One unusual piece shows an Original Walt Disney TV Introduction. In this 63-second snippet, Disney briefly discusses Dumbo as he leads into… I don’t know. It looks like a TV broadcast of the movie, but I find it hard to imagine that he showed the whole thing on the tube at that early date. In any case, this little snippet was modestly interesting.

More entertaining are the two Bonus Shorts found on Dumbo. We get the nine minute and 20 second “The Flying Mouse” from 1934 and the eight and a half minute “Elmer Elephant” from 1936. The latter’s the more compelling of the two, and it offers a clear precursor to Dumbo. “Mouse” connects in a more tangential way and it seems excessively cutesy, but it’s fun to see as well. I love it when Disney DVDs toss in these vintage shorts, and both “Elephant” and “Mouse” are enjoyable pieces.

A few kid-oriented extras appear as well. We find two Sing-Along Songs: “Look Out for Mr. Stork” and “Casey Junior”, and we also get a Dumbo DVD Storybook. As usual, the latter allows kids to read it solo or follow a narrated piece, but the second option is more interactive than normal here. A few times during the text, some additional character icons appear, and you can here little soundbites through them. It’s a fun presentation.

Only a few new extras appear here. Whereas the original Dumbo DVD included a new version of “Baby Mine” from Broadway veteran Michael Crawford, this one replaces it with a *music video for “Baby Mine” from Jim Brickman and Kassie DePaiva. I’d never heard of either, so I was shocked to see that as Kassie Wesley, DePaiva played redneck Bobbie Joe in cult classic Evil Dead 2!

Kassie lip-synchs the song while Jim plays the piano. They do so in a studio setting as we also see many snippets from the movie. It’s nothing memorable, but at least it’s an understated take on the song. That makes it an improvement over Crawford’s terribly overwrought take on the old DVD. Plus, Kassie’s still pretty easy on the eyes.

A fresh entry in *DisneyPedia line pops up via the “My First Circus” game. Meant for the very young, this tests your knowledge of circus animals. It picks an animal for you to identify; get the answer right and you learn a little more about that critter. The package also comes with some cards to help educate kids on this subject. As a reasonably intelligent 39-year-old, I can’t claim to find any pleasure or challenge here, but it should be fun for the target audience.

The DVD opens with some ads. We get promos for The Little Mermaid, Meet the Robinsons, Disney Learning Adventures, Airbuddies and The Fox and the Hound. These also appear in the Sneak Peeks area along with trailers for The Wild, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Princess Fairy Tales, and Brother Bear 2.

Does the “Big Top Edition” of Dumbo lose any extras from the 2001 version. Yup. The most significant omission revolves around a nearly six-minute excerpt from The Reluctant Dragon. It demonstrated the sound effects of Dumbo. Disney may excuse the clip’s absence due to the separate availability of Behind the Scenes at Walt Disney Studios, but it’s still a shame this Dumbo-related piece doesn’t appear here. It’s informative and fun.

As noted, this set drops the terrible Michael Crawford “Baby of Mine” music video and replaces it with a new one. Good riddance to the former Phantom of the Opera!

Some ads also fail to show up, and I don’t just mean the “Sneak Peeks” that were specific for 2001. We lose two Dumbo trailers as well as a preview of Dumbo II. What the heck ever happened to that direct-to-video sequel? It’s been five years and it still hasn’t hit the shelves. Not that I’m anxious to see it, but it’s weird that Disney hasn’t released it.

Anyway, I don’t miss that ad, but it’s a definite shame the Dumbo trailers don’t reappear here. That factor ensures some Disney die-hards will want to hold onto their old DVDs. They probably will already have the Reluctant Dragon clip on the Behind the Scenes DVD, but I don’t believe the Dumbo trailers can be found anywhere else.

Otherwise, I can think of no reason fans shouldn’t replace their 2001 DVDs. After 65 years, Dumbo still offers one of the studio’s strongest offerings. It tells a cute tale and does so in an endearing manner. The DVD features sound and extras similar to those on the 2001 DVD, but it offers substantial improvements in picture quality. That makes it a must have for Disney buffs, as Dumbo finally provides satisfying visuals.

To rate this film visit the 60th Anniversary Edition review of DUMBO

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main