Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dumbo: The Little Movie That Could

In Dumbo, Casey Jr. is the little engine that could, full of resolve and determination despite its small stature humble nature.  Similarly, The film Dumbo itself is the little movie that could, a pure and undisputed classic of Disney animation that is in many ways still overshadowed by its immediate predecessors--Snow White, Pinocchio and Fantasia.

Though less epic in both scope and length, Dumbo remains an often visually stunning film with an emotional depth both remarkable and sincere.  Clocking in at a mere 63 minutes, it makes everyone of those minutes count.  Disney historian John Grant very succinctly pinpointed the film's appeal and historical significance when he noted, "Dumbo was cheap and brilliant.  This was essentially because of its artistry.  Dumbo may not have had the richness of a Snow White, a Pinocchio or a Bambi, but what it did have was a simple and emotive story well told."

Despite its richly deserved reputation among critics and historians, Dumbo remains a second tier Disney title, at least as far as the company's marketing gurus have been concerned.  It has never earned a prestigious Platinum or Diamond designation in regard to its DVD releases, an honor that still eludes it in its just released high definition Blu-ray set.  Dumbo is instead a veteran of "Anniversary" marketing; 60th and 65th standard DVD editions were released in 2001 and 2006 respectively, while the new Blu-ray carries a 70th Anniversary branding.  Yet, despite not getting the high end Diamond treatment, this new home entertainment incarnation is commendable for not just its new high definition resolution but some rather new and notable bonus features.

The set recycles some content from the previous DVD editions, most notably the Celebrating Dumbo featurette and two Silly Symphonies cartoon shorts, Elmer Elephant and The Flying Mouse.  New content is minimal but quite significant.  Taking Flight: The Making of Dumbo is an exceptionally well realized short documentary that serves to entertain and inform even the most knowledgeable and seasoned Disney enthusiasts.  I was very happy to see two of my favorite fellow Disney historians, F. Paul Anderson and Didier Ghez among the assembled talking heads.  The feature is especially notable for sensitively addressing and ultimately dispelling the racially-based controversy that has long been associated with the depiction of the crow characters.  Also new are two recently discovered deleted scenes, "The Mouse's Tale" and "Are You a Man or a Mouse?"  The former is an especially charming sequence where Timothy explains the origins of the elephant-mouse dynamic.  Less impressive is The Magic of Dumbo: A Ride of Passage, a very quick and overly sentimental look at Disneyland's Dumbo the Flying Elephant attraction.

Though it certainly deserves better, Dumbo is generally well served in this newest "Anniversary" Blu-ray/DVD edition.  A must for the high definition collector and an upgrade of sorts from the prior DVD releases. 


Steven said...

I remember loving this movie as a child, but you are right, for some reason it sits as a second fiddle to some of the bigger Disney classics. Maybe it is because the songs don't stand out in my memory, although hearing those crows sing is memorable.


Anonymous said...

Dumbo is one of my favorite movies as a little kid. i used to watch it all the time.