Blu-Ray Review: Dumbo

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In 1941, Dumbo flew into the hearts of families around the world without ever saying a word. Now, 70 years later, the film comes to Blu-Ray in what can what only be described as a celebration of this timeless classic. A celebration of not only the film itself, but it’s place in the pantheon of the Disney greats. Believe it or not, when Dumbo was released, Disney Animation was in financial trouble. Fantasia and Bambi hadn’t been the successes that were expected, and a lot was riding on this little elephant. Luckily, the stunningly emotional story and beautifully simplistic animation brought people to the theatre in droves, and Dumbo secured it’s place in history.

Odds are, you’re already familiar with the story of the elephant with the large ears. Running a mere 64 minutes, the story is streamlined to a point where there isn’t a wasted moment to be found. This economy of storytelling gives the film a power rarely seen in modern film. As Walt has famously said, for every laugh, there needs to be a tear. This concept of emotional opposites is brilliantly encapsulated in Dumbo with moments of exhilaration balanced with moments of pure devestation.

With sequences ranging from Dumbo’s mother’s circus rampage to the moment he tearfully smiles after being swept up in her trunk through the bars of her cage, or even the exhiliration of his first (intentional) flight, the animators did a brilliant job of capturing the power of the story through their art. It’s hard to believe that Dumbo is a silent character, considering how emotionally attached the audience gets to the character. And yet, with every smile and every tear, I found myself invested in everything that was happening.

After rewatching the film for the first time in several years, I was blown away by just how amazing this movie really is. It was with this in mind that I began pouring through the extensive extras found on this new release. To begin with, I rewatched the entire film in an option called “Cine-Explore.” This is really a fascinating way to watch the film, with picture in picture analysis of the film from various historians, animators, etc. I came out of this at the end with an even greater appreciation of what was accomplished 70 years ago.

I followed this up with a look at a fascinating deleted scene. Originally, the film was going to contain a story from Timothy the Mouse about the troubled history between mice and elephants. Flashing back to prehistoric times, in his version the mice were the size of dinosaurs and the elephants were pathetically small in comparison. The sequence was never animated, but several pieces of art were created. These have been strung together while the original story notes are read over them. It’s a fascinating look at what might have been, and while it would have felt out-of-place, there are still some hilarious and genuiney epic conceptual ideas that I loved getting to see. There is also a less compelling deleted musical number called “Are You a Man or a Mouse?” It’s a fun sequence, but not nearly as interesting as the flashback.

The next item in the menu is called “Backstage Disney,” and contains several great features. There’s a 28 minute documentary called “Taking Flight: The Magic of Dumbo” that discusses the history of the film along with it’s legacy. There’s also a look at the Dumbo ride at Disneyland and the impact it has on families across generations. Honestly, I enjoy the ride, but I’ve never found it to be a standout in the park. While I can appreciate that this was one of the original rides, and I did enjoy the analysis of the update the ride got in the 80’s, I found this feature to be more of a commercial than anything.

After this is a truly fascinating look at the foley work that went into creating the world of Casey Jr. This feature has been on DVD before, but I had personally never seen it. The sequence used to demonstrate the sound techniques is not from Dumbo. Casey Jr. must have been in another animated project, and while I’m not sure what the clip was from, the sounds were identical. From the opening whistle call of “all aboard, let’s go,” to the thunderous crash when he comes to a stop, this is a terrific peek behind-the-curtain at an aspect of animation that doesn’t get enough credit.

I also enjoyed the remaining documentary called “Celebrating Dumbo” that is carried over from a prior DVD release. Featuring interviews with film critic/Disney historian Leonard Maltin, among others, this is a closer look at the film from a historical perspective. Finally, this release has the original 1941 trailer, the trailer from teh 1949 re-release, and an extensive art gallery that is a must-see for any aspiring animator. They also include in this gallery the original book upon which the film is based.

The set comes with two discs, the Blu-Ray and a DVD. The DVD has less features than the Bu-Ray, and every feature on the disc is also on the Blu-Ray. The release itself has never looked better, with an impeccable picture and sound. Overall, this is about as perfect a release as this classic film could get. The extras are justifiably like a love letter to the movie. I’ve always admired the film, but after going through this collection of features, I feel like I have a greater understanding of what makes Dumbo so successfull. It’s what was put in, what was kept out, the music, the animation, the voice-over work, and on and on. This is a success on every level.