STUDIO: Disney
MSRP: $29.99
• ‘Celebrating Dumbo’ Featurette
• Feature Commentary
• Original Walt Disney TV Intro
• Production Galleries
• Bonus Shorts: ‘Elmer the Elephant’ and ‘The Flying Mouse’
• Games & Activities
• Sing-Along Songs
• ‘Baby Mine’ music video
• Matching-game cards

The Pitch

“I be done seen about everything when I see an elephant fly.”

The Humans

Edward Brophy (The Thin Man), Cliff Edwards (Pinocchio), Sterling Holloway (Remember the Night), Verna Felton (Lady and the Tramp)

"The first sample is free."

The Nutshell

Baby circus elephant Jumbo Jr. is ridiculed and ostracized because of his gigantic ears. With the help of an enterprising mouse and some jive-talkin’ black crows –plus a good solid drunk– he turns his uniqueness into an advantage.

The Lowdown

I’ve written about Disney Trauma before, but this is the one that wrecks me every time. ‘Mad Elephant’, man. If you don’t cry your eyes out at least twice while watching this movie, you have no goddamn heart.

Dumbo was an unlikely candidate for classic status. Disney’s previous animated feature films had been tremendously ambitious undertakings; the first, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was a phenomenal success, but Pinocchio and Fantasia were financial disappointments. In order to defray the costs of their upcoming Bambi, a second, low-budget release was commissioned for 1941.

Artistically, Dumbo is a throwback to the ‘Silly Symphony’ shorts of the 1930s. There’s an energetic looseness to the animation that many of the other full-length movies lack. The film’s accelerated production schedule is evidenced by a handful of technical imperfections— dropped frames, coloring errors— but that’s OK since the emphasis is on character.

Check out the early scene in which an obnoxious kid harasses Dumbo. Watch how Dumbo innocently responds; how Mrs. Jumbo watches warily; how Dumbo’s confusion mounts at the kid’s increasing aggression; how Mom makes the fateful choice to intervene. There’s a lot going on there, and it’s done almost entirely in pantomime.

"I don’t suppose one of you boys could give me directions to the country club?"

Okay, about those black crows. 65 years on, I think we can agree that as racial caraciatures go they’re pretty benign and sympathetic, especially for their time. There was a lot worse going on in, say, the Tom & Jerry cartoons of the day, not to mention various live-action films.

The Package

An automatic ‘fast play’ option cycles the disc through the previews, the feature, and the kid-oriented video extras. The quality supplements from 2001’s 60th Anniversary Edition are here as well, but you have to dig to find them. Animation historian John Canemaker’s commentary is detailed and informative, identifying which artists drew which scenes and addressing how a five-week labor strike affected not only Dumbo but the future of Disney animation itself.

I wish that some time had been taken to clean up the transfer. It’s respectable, but not perfect. Also, the image seems to be cropped too close.

One feature not carried over from the earlier edition is any further threat of a straight-to-video sequel. Reportedly John Lasseter, the Mouse’s new master, has terminated this disrespectful practice, which is fine by me.

9 out of 10