51 Days of Disney (Day 4): Dumbo

After the colossal financial disappointment that was Fantasia, Disney needed After the commercial failure that was Fantasia, the Disney Studios needed something cheap to produce that would make some money for the company. He needed something that could be made fast and incredibly cheaply made to keep the company from going under. Along came a short and simple children’s story about a flying elephant…

Version watched: 2001 DVD release

I have not seen Dumbo since I was a child. In fact, I had to borrow a copy of the movie from my neighbor in order to even review it. The film is going to finally be released on Blu-Ray in America in September (it came out in other regions early last year) and I will definitely pick it up then.

The story is incredibly simple. Jumbo Jr. is brought to his mother, Mrs. Jumbo, by Mr. Stork. He is instantly ridiculed by the other elephants due to his oversized ears and is nicknamed Dumbo. Everyone makes fun of him except for Timothy the Mouse. His massive ears end up allowing him to become something special because he has the ability to fly using them, but people end up trying to exploit the gift that they used to make fun of him for.

What is quite amazing about this movie is how much content in this 64 minute long film will straight up scare children. I have always had a problem with clowns, so the evil clowns in this movie always terrified me, but even the “Pink Elephants on Parade” section of the film is horrifying. It’s also one of those times where you don’t know how to react to it. On one hand, it’s bright and colourful, but at the same time completely demented.

The music is fantastic as usual, but the music seems to be have a much larger prescience in Dumbo compared to Snow White or Pinocchio. There always seems to be a new song every few minutes and while they are all fairly short, they’re all fun. The best one is “Baby Mine” which will make you cry and was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Song, but unfortunately lost. The film did win an Oscar for Best Original Soundtrack, though.

While this movie was being made, the Disney Animator’s Strike of 1941 hit the studio and fundamentally changed it forever. Up to this point the studio had been like a giant family and there was a massive sense of camaraderie around the lot. Walt didn’t want unions having a prescience at his studio, so he fought his hardest to keep them off the lot, but a portion of the animators were fed up with the bizzarre pay scheme at the studio and the fact that there were a large amount of lay-offs after Snow White and the lack of some paid overtime from that movie. Eventually everything was resolved and the Disney Studio became unionized, but the studio never really recovered. Some of the main offenders in the strike were charactured in Dumbo as clowns who were going to “hit the big boss for a raise.”

Honestly, one of my favourite things about this movie is stuff like when the stork was looking down on Florida and the fact that it looks exactly like the map he was just looking at. Also the fact that Mr. Stork is played by a Disney standby, Sterling Holloway (Winnie the Pooh, the Cheshire Cat, Kaa, and Roquefort from the Aristocats) and the patriarchal elephant is played by Verna Felton who would also do the voice of the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, and (my personal favourite) Flora in Sleeping Beauty.

The animation in the movie is significantly less detailed than in the past three films in almost every way except for the actual animation for Dumbo himself. Corners were being cut every where with more and more animation either being shown off screen or under circumstances where it is obscured in some way. Bill Tytla, who was the lead animator for Dumbo and also the lead animator for Chernabog in Fantasia, did some absolutely amazing work on the baby elephant and it really helps you feel bad for the little guy.

Dumbo is the shortest Disney feature length animated feature, and it did not have the budgets of previous Disney films, but it did make money and allowed the Disney Studios to stay in business and it is still a fantastic and heartwarming film.

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