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Walt Disney Home Video presents
Dumbo (Big Top Edition) (1941)

"Aw, gee, Dumbo, I think your ears are beautiful."
- Timothy Q. Mouse (Edward Brophy)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: June 09, 2006

MPAA Rating: G
Run Time: 01h:03m:44s
Release Date: June 06, 2006
UPC: 786936694499
Genre: animation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AA-A- B+

DVD Review

How can you not love Dumbo? Even if you find classic Disney animation treacly, there's something absolutely endearing about this sweet little elephant with the gargantuan ears, the story never turns saccharine, and the animation is consistently gorgeous. The extras package reveals that, as animated features go, this one was done in a hurry, and perhaps that accounts for its success—nothing here feels overthought or unreasonably schematic, and it clocks in at just over an hour, so even the smallest among us with their wee little attention spans will hang with this one.

To begin with, the movie revels in the magic of the circus—it's not a seedy place of dark characters and questionable morals (as is, say, the circus in A Bug's Life), but rather it's an anthropomorphic animals' paradise, in which all are pleased to perform, and even more pleased for the annual visit from the stork. Cute little pups and cubs get deposited by an army of storks to all the mommies in the circus—no fear of a talk about the birds and the bees here—but left out, sadly, is a hopeful mother elephant. Better late than never, though—a tardy stork comes through with a baby elephant, and he's got the doe eyes of the cutest little puppy you've ever seen. All is bliss between mother and child, and then the other elephants get a peek at the freakishly huge ears on the boy. Mom loves him, no matter what he looks like—moms are like that, especially in Disney movies—but the sweet mute little guy takes heaps of abuse, from a passel of gossipy elephants, from other animals, and from little kids. This last becomes problematic, for Dumbo's mother stomps to his defense—what we know is the maternal instinct gets interpreted as a stampeding, irrational pachyderm, leading to her quarantine.

So our friend Dumbo is all alone in the world, but, this being a Disney movie, he makes his one necessary friend—here it's Timothy Q. Mouse, cut from the same bolt of cloth as Jiminy Cricket. He helps our hero find his way in the world, and eventually turns Dumbo's most notable feature from a negative to a positive—it's hard not to read this as a parable for those kids who are just a little bit different in some respect, and gives the comforting notion that we can all find our place in this world.

As so many of the classic Disney films are, this one is at its heart a parent/child story, and though of course it ends well, it could still provoke some anxiety over issues of abandonment. (It's got nothing on the opening moments of Bambi, though.) The animation is extraordinarily lush throughout, and perhaps the most notable sequence is when Dumbo and Timothy accidentally imbibe champagne, leading to a drunken, surrealistic parade of pink elephants, plaid elephants, elephants of every shape and color and size—a discussion about the hallucinatory powers of alcohol may not be what you had in mind for after the movie, but be prepared. Dumbo gets a boost, too, from a merry band of crows, who are a spirited bunch, but the animation treads perilously close to trafficking in Stepin Fetchit stereotypes of African Americans.

But goodness knows these aren't as egregious as some of the stuff you'll find in the long-suppressed Song of the South, and looking to hash out the politics of a movie like Dumbo cannot be time well spent. Grab a bag of peanuts for this one, and enjoy the ride, because it's over much too soon.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: A clean and terrifically saturated transfer—the movie looks sharp and barely shows its age, but for occasional discolorations on the darker end of the palette.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The remixed 5.1 tracks sound just a bit too slick for my taste, but the transfer is a good one, with a broad dynamic range.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
9 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Wild, Brother Bear 2, Disney's Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Disney Princess Fairy Tales, The Little Mermaid (SE), Meet the Robinsons, The Fox and The Hound, Disney Learning Adventures, Airbuddies
7 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by animation historian John Canemaker
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. interactive game and storybook (see below)
  2. image gallery
  3. FastPlay option
Extras Review: This title has been released on DVD before, but this disc easily supplants the previous incarnation. Ported over from last time is animation historian John Canemaker's dense commentary track, thick with information about the history of the project, and featuring information on the animators, storyboard artists and voiceover actors who worked on the picture. Compared to other Disney animated features, this one was made almost on the fly, and on the cheap, and a feeling of improvisatory looseness may account for much of the whimsy of the film. Canemaker is also very good at pointing out influences on the house animation style at Disney—particularly noteworthy are the many nods to German Expressionism.

Celebrating Dumbo (14m:51s) goes over some of the same territory, and features interviews with Roy Disney, Leonard Maltin, and a slew of animators, many of whom talk about this film as a formative influence. Walt Disney himself appears for a TV introduction (1m:04s), calling this his favorite of his eponymous company's movies. You can test out your pipes with a couple of sing-alongs, for Look Out For Mr. Stork and Casey Jr., and there's also a newly produced music video for Baby Mine.

Things are more interactive still in a section called Games and Activities—test your knowledge of the animal kingdom by playing My First Circus, and if you want to snuggle up for another adventure with our hero, you've got the chance with a DVD storybook called Dumbo's Big Discovery.

Two 1930s Disney shorts seem almost like first runthroughs for Dumbo. Elmer Elephant (08m:30s), from 1936, features a pachyderm who's the butt of practical jokes at a birthday party, winning back the favor of the guests by using his trunk to put out the fire caused by too many candles on the cake. And The Flying Mouse (09m:20s), from 1934, stars a rodent closer in feel to Stuart Little than Mickey Mouse, with a fairy godmother who gives him wings. An art gallery features seven chapters' worth of storyboards, sketches, and looks at the developing narrative, and is worth clicking around.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Absolutely endearing and enchanting classic Disney. The story of the little elephant with the big ears has been keeping children enraptured for generations, and it no doubt will continue to do so with this special edition, with more than enough by way of extras to intrigue the next generation of animators.


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