Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dumbo and Pink Elephants on Blu-ray

I be done seen about everything....
For the last two weeks, The Lion King has ruled at the box office. It took in over $22 million just this past weekend. As its theatrical re-release comes to a close, it'll gear up for a hi-def, 3D home video release on October 4.  Almost lost amid the hoopla surrounding the second coming of Simba, however, is the comparatively quiet debut of Dumbo last week on Blu-ray. Marking its 70th anniversary this year, this simple story of the put-upon baby elephant with over-sized ears who learns he can fly finally gets the restoration and treatment it deserves. It's a bright and beautiful presentation of one of Walt Disney's most perfect and emotionally satisfying films.

Ironically, Dumbo and The Lion King share a similar pedigree. At the time they went into production, both films were considered secondary projects (Bambi and Pocahontas being the "prestige" pictures at the Disney Studios at their respective times) and were animated to a large extent by younger, less experienced artists. They were each also released near the tail end of a "golden age" of Disney animation.  Dumbo followed in the footsteps of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and Fantasia. The Lion King came on the heels of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Both films have more than stood the test of time and are unquestionable Disney classics. But, since Dumbo came first, let's shine the spotlight on it today.

Mrs. Jumbo and her "Baby Mine"
It would be easy to dismiss Dumbo as a minor entry in Disney animation. After all, it's the most cartoony of Disney's pre-WWII feature films. It wasn't groundbreaking like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It didn't have the visual depth and detail of Pinocchio. It certainly lacked the ambition of Fantasia. At 64 minutes, you could barely even call it feature length. It was a movie pressed into production quickly to generate cash flow for  the studio, an atypical, but necessary move at the time. Pinocchio and Fantasia were both expensive films that performed poorly at the box office and European distribution had all but dried up because of the war, cutting off a significant revenue stream. Walt Disney needed a movie U.S. audiences would respond to favorably.  He needed a hit.

In Leonard Maltin's book, The Disney Films, animator Ward Kimball recalled:

"(Dumbo was) one of the cheapest films we ever made. It came in for around $950,000 which was damn reasonable, even for 1940, when our cartoon features like Bambi climbed into the $2 million or $3 million bracket. The reason we brought it in for a low price was that it was done quickly and with a minimum amount of mistakes. The story was clear and air-tight to everyone involved in the project. We didn't do a lot of stuff over due to story-point goofs. There were no sequences started and then shelved, like in Pinocchio. Walt was sure of what he wanted and this confidence was shared by the entire crew. Dumbo, from the opening drawing, went straight through to the finish with very few things changed or altered."

Dumbo was released on October 23, 1941 and was immediately embraced by moviegoers and critics alike. People responded to the film's universal themes of feeling alienated for being different and triumphing in the face of adversity. So popular was Dumbo, that Time Magazine planned to put the aerodynamic elephant on its cover. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, however, Time chose to go with a more pertinent cover instead.

Dumbo ran the gamut of emotions, from the whimsical fun of Casey Jr.'s train trek through the countryside to the tear-inducing "Baby Mine." It also has the sublime surrealistic invention of "Pink Elephants on Parade," Dumbo and Timothy Mouse's hallucinatory observation after drinking water spiked with champagne. For sheer originality (and having one of Disney's catchiest melodies), it ranks among the greatest scenes in the history of animation.

Clever, funny and heartfelt, with colors exploding off the screen in Blu-ray, Dumbo is a must-have for your Disney video library.

No comments:

Post a Comment