Judge Ryan Keefer says that Dumbo is not an animal!!!! Dumbo is a...wait, never mind.
Our review of Dumbo (Blu-ray) 70th Anniversary Edition, published September 20th, 2011, is also available.
"What's the matter with his ears? I don't see nothin' wrong with 'em. I think they're cute."
After all of the Discovery Channel specials and other physics examinations on whether or not elephants can fly, the answer seems to be a resounding…no, of course. Unless Isaac Newton is in a position to, nothing will get him to spin in his grave anytime soon. But I digress; I'm a little bit off topic. Disney brings Dumbo back to DVD five years after a previous anniversary edition, so the obvious question would have to be does this DVD fly like an elephant, and is it worthy of buying again?
Facts of the Case
Individually, John McLeish, Dorothy Scott, Sarah Selby, and Noreen Gammill were rather anonymous talents in Hollywood, but collectively they took part in a story about a young ostracized elephant who is separated from his mother by a misunderstanding and has to find his way. Using the help of a mouse, he discovers that he can fly, and he comes back to the circus looking for his mother.
Dumbo is the prototypical story of a loner and outcast that manages to rise above any sort of obstacles and transcend any potential that others think that they have. To quickly restate the story, Dumbo's mom Jumbo received a package from the stork, baby Jumbo Jr. Jumbo Jr. has a slight ear problem, and the other elephants in the circus make fun of him and call him Dumbo. Jumbo and Dumbo get to the next town in the circus and the people make fun of him, and Jumbo protects her son from the abuse, which is interpreted to be a wild animal attack, and the two are separated. Dumbo runs into a mouse named Timothy who helps him feel comfortable with his appearance and is able to help him fly using his ears.
What Dumbo does a little more effectively than other Disney animated films of the era is that it conveys emotion using minimal dialogue, something that was unheard of at the time. The bonding between Dumbo and Jumbo is touching, and watching Dumbo sulk while Timothy cleans him up get your eyes moist. Come on, you'd have to be a cold heartless fool to not notice.
Almost neglected by Walt Disney because of hyped releases like Pinocchio and Fantasia, Dumbo has become the film that started to propel other "losers" into greatness, and it helped show them that using your weaknesses as strengths will help you in the end and confuse your enemies. And going past the rather Sun Tzu way of looking at things that I'm examining here, it also helps show you that you should follow your own drum and be happy with what you have. So can we all stop looking at Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan for two seconds to see whether they're annoying or attractive? And God forbid, who wants to emulate that behavior? Just go on through the world on your merits and character qualities, and no one will care if you've got big ears or not.
A show of hands; who has seen Dumbo recently that does not have an anklebiter or junior miss that they have to raise, support, or baby sit? OK, now I think it looks like with reasonable certainty that I'm the only one with an X chromosome left in the room that still has his hand up, I can tell you that not seeing this film in a long time and coming back to it was very enjoyable. So many people take the "fun for all ages" catchphrase for granted and throw it around like candy, but Dumbo still brings the goods after all these years.
Not having seen Dumbo on DVD before, it looks excellent. All of the watercolors look as good now as they must have back in the day and the film rarely shows its age. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack sounds good for its age, not really overpowering or anything, but the film has been out there for awhile. Some of the extras were brought over from the previous version of the film, but others are new features that are quite superficial. There's a 15-minute look at the film and the reasons for its popularity after all these years and an introduction by Uncle Walt. Along with some child-oriented features (like some sing-alongs and read-alongs using remote control navigation), the other continuous moving piece is a section devoted to two short films that appear to have been released after Dumbo. Edgar the Elephant is a story about another elephant who's a little bit older than Dumbo and he tries to win the attention of a girl. He is rejected and picked on, but tries to do a brave thing to win her attention. The Flying Mouse is the story of a mouse that wants to fly but can't, but he also does something brave and his wish is granted.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Putting the supplemental material for this up against the 60th Anniversary Edition that was released in 2001, this one seems a little bit light. Not to say that these extras are a washout, and I don't have the Anniversary Edition to compare things to, but this just feels like a greedy little double dip.
This doesn't seem as complete and exhaustive as other Disney gems have been in the past and there's a part of me that seems that Disney is holding out for the grand 75th anniversary of the film a decade from now, after the DVD platform has gotten to double secret super high definition.
Someone take the magic feather away from Disney, this double-dip is shameless and unnecessary. As for Dumbo, keep flying big boy!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Animation Historian John Canemaker
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