Judge Clark Douglas could use a peanut.
Jump for joy—it's Jumbo!
Facts of the Case
In the early 20th Century, The Wonder Circus is one of the most exciting forms of entertainment around. Managed by circus veteran Anthony "Pop" Wonder (Jimmy Durante, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) and his daughter Kitty (Doris Day, Pillow Talk), the show boasts thrilling acrobatics, entertaining musical performances and a dancing routine from an elephant named Jumbo. Unfortunately, the circus has run into financial problems in recent times (due in no small part to Pop Wonder's gambling addiction), and it looks like nasty rival circus owner John Noble (Dean Jagger, Vanishing Point) is going to do everything in his power to put the Wonder family out of business. Can Kitty find a way to get the family business out of this mess?
Okay, first things first: calling this film Jumbo is akin to dubbing a Star Wars movie Chewbacca. The plus-sized title character doesn't exactly have a plus-sized role in the film, as the elephant is brought to center stage for a couple of fun setpieces and then set aside almost entirely for the remainder of the film. Jumbo is merely a small portion of Jumbo; the tale is much more concerned with its less interesting human characters. That's a shame, considering that Jumbo really does seem to be something special. There's a scene in which the elephant does a fast-paced dance on on a tiny platform, which must be seen to be believed. A real scene-stealer, that pachyderm. Elsewhere, the movie is a bore.
Perhaps the title isn't actually referring to the elephant at all, but rather to the size of the film. It's certainly a great big spectacle, opening with a huge scene ripped directly from the vastly superior Dumbo (featuring a host of circus hands singing as they raise the big top). Over the course of the film, you'll bear witness to lots of lavish costumes, sets and choreography…but these elements are tethered to a tedious story loaded with unmemorable songs. Midway through, my wife made an observation: "It's kind of a shame that so many people put so much effort into something like this." It's more or less a poster child for the kind of cinematic excess that made the blockbusters of that decade so dull: expensive, colorful, bloated and childish (sounds familiar, doesn't it?).
Some will undoubtedly argue that the plot is merely a means to deliver a host of big musical sequences, but plots of such films don't have to be unbearable. There are plenty of sprawling '60s musicals that happen to be tethered to riveting stories (My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music spring to mind), but this isn't one of them. The romance between Doris Day and her agonizingly dull beau Sam Rawlins (Stephen Boyd, Ben-Hur) is so uneventful and inconsequential, yet it takes up a huge portion of the film's 127-minute running time (this thing is lean by the standards of the era, but it feels three hours long). The rest of the story is yet another variation on the "let's put on a show!" plot that fuels so many musicals, and Jumbo doesn't provide any interesting new twists on that idea.
Director Charles Walters made his name with the charming 1948 musical Easter Parade, but the rest of his filmography is packed with a mixed bag of Hollywood fluff. This is more or less par for the course for the director: a technically solid outing that is no better or worse than the material he was given. It's based on a 1934 musical by Billy Rose (featuring songs by Rodgers and Hart), and Jimmy Durante starred in the musical on both stage and screen during that decade. The 1962 version has altered the plot considerably, but retained the musical numbers. I couldn't tell you whether the earlier version was any smarter or more charming, but I can certainly report that the newer one isn't worth your time (unless you happen to be a genre enthusiast, of course). The film flopped at the box office, and it marked that last time that Doris Day and Busby Berkeley would work on a big-screen musical (the latter passed away; the former moved on to a handful of other projects before going into retirement).
Jumbo (Blu-ray) has received an exceptional 1080p/2.40:1 transfer that highlights the film's remarkable production design. Detail is strong throughout, depth is impressive and flesh tone are natural. There's a bit of grain present, but it's consistent, warm and never distracting. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is similarly strong, presenting the music in rather robust, immersive fashion. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and sound design is well-preserved, but the track really hits its stride when the orchestra swells (which it does quite frequently). Supplements are limited to the Tom and Jerry short "Jerry and Jumbo" (7 minutes), the 1933 live action short "Yours Sincerely" (20 minutes) and a theatrical trailer.
Judging by the many user reviews available around the web, it's easy to see that Jumbo still has its fans. Even so, it's doubtful that the casual viewer will find much to appreciate here. This is an expensive, attractive musical, but it's just so terribly dull.
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Studio: Warner Bros.
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