Dumbo

Directed by Ben Sharpsteen
Produced by Walt Disney
Written by Novel Helen Aberson & Harold Pearl
Story Otto Englander, Joe Grant & Dick Huemer
Narrated by John McLeish
Starring Edward Brophy
Herman Bing
Margaret Wright
Sterling Holloway
Cliff Edwards
Music by Frank Churchill & Lance Husher
Studio Walt Disney Productions
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date October 23, 1941
Running time 64 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Dumbo is a very easy film to like. It is not as ambitious as the other films that Disney were making in the 30s and 40s and does not have any great allegories about human nature or feature any battles between good and evil. The animation as a whole is not cutting edge although it does contain one of the most brilliant and surrealistic pieces of animation ever put to film. Overall it is a very simple film with a few great songs that is hugely entertaining.

For those who don’t know, Dumbo is the story of a baby circus elephant, who is taken from his protective mother and then teased because of his oversized ears. He tries to fit into the circus but does not find his niche until the end of the film when it is discovered that his ears can be used as wings and that he can fly. At time the film feels more like an extended short film than a feature, and as it only goes for just on an hour it never overstays its welcome.

One thing that I have discovered is that I have become such an animation nerd that I am almost able to pick out which animator animated which scenes in this film. I am not really that much of an expert and there are others who can easily recognise the quirks of each artist, but I do now recognise the animation style of Ward Kimball and can ID some of his scenes. (His style is a bit more cartoony that the other animators. He is responsible for both Casey Jr. and the crows.) However it is Bill Tytla’s animation in Dumbo that draws the most acclaim.

The best part of the film is of course the ‘pink elephants on parade’ scene. This is a surrealistic, Dali-esque piece of animation that seems quite out of place in such a conventional animated movie. It is brilliant and quite ahead of its time. I wonder if this was a bi-product of Salvador Dali being at Disney as Walt was trying to collaborate on Destino at around this time. I know that in the earlier 40s Dali was influencing other animators at other studios; most notably Bob Clampett (Porky in Wackyland, The Big Snooze) at Warner Bros. but this is a lot wilder than that.

Another memorable scene come just after ‘pink elephants’’ when Dumbo and Timothy Mouse meet the crows. This is a scene where modern Disney would add ‘This is a product of its time!’ as the scene is a little politically incorrect. Still it does feature the song ‘When I See A Elephant Fly’ which is catchy and clever. Frank Churchill won an Academy Award for best song with Baby Mine from Dumbo.

I watched Dumbo last night on the Disney Channel instead of on DVD, which I do own. I was surprised to see such an old product on Disney Channel as they seem to be focussed solely on current tween shows. The film was peppered with commercial breaks for these shows which all seem to be full of annoyingly hyperactive teenagers that seem like they are high on ecstasy. ‘They are like really annoying.’ The main ad was for Jonus, who’s acting skills seem to be as good as their music. Still I guess when I was a kid I watched a lot of annoying, pretentious crap so I should not really comment.

The 70th Anniversary Edition DVD of Dumbo (which will be the fourth time it has been released on DVD) is due out soon. It will also be available on Blu Ray for the first time.

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