Dumbo is a marvel. Made in a rush to recover from sustained losses post-Pinocchio and Fantasia, the little elephant has just as much heart, energy, and style as both of those. Briskly pushing forward for a mere hour, the sights are marvelous.
Dumbo always feels like a bit of a runt. Even when face-to-face with a mouse or crows, he never seems substantial. This is his world from the mind of rejected outlier. His ears seem to tower over him as he learns the lesson about being yourself. The film is too fast to feel preachy, the message genuinely flowing from the action and color.
Disney’s impeccable animator’s polish this one too, the enormity of the circus crash still a marvel. Dumbo botches a stunt by tripping on his ears, sending a tower of elephants into the stands, onto lines, and dropping the entire tent as panicked onlookers flee the scene. For such a tightly contained story, the sequence is pure spectacle, and a superb reason for Dumbo to recede from the limelight.
In the early days of animation, voice actors were rarely major stars. Most were never even recognized in the credits, and for Dumbo, they were hardly needed in the first place. So much is being done with motion and timing, a lot of the film is voiced by music. Edward Brophy is allowed to stand out then as Timothy Q. Mouse, an effervescent and mischievous mentor to the down and out Dumbo after Dumbo’s mother is snatched away. Timothy’s sly workings are clever, and he is smarter than he gives himself credit for.
Despite a crunched schedule, the animation team pushes themselves. The circus train becomes an animated figure that pushes itself up a hill. It has more character than most lesser studio production’s main designs. Once in the location, the tent goes up, and not simply. The entire sequence is told with lighting, rain, and elephants helping out to complete the job. All of it is so unnecessary to the end story, yet makes a simple task stand out as something memorable.
Dumbo is also gifted with the touch of a surrealist. Stork’s deliver kin to a map of the US, replete with written names, and trains visible from the sky. The film completely loses it late with an utterly bizarre drunken vision with the “Pink elephant” song. It is as terrifying as it is dazzling, with wildly abrasive concepts like an elephant constructed entirely out of disembodied heads. There is nothing else like it, all the while extending the animation muscle as far as it will go.
This is Disney’s most timeless film, abrupt in its length to keep a modern day child’s short attention span and so simple that it could never go out of style. The simple ideas of loss and finding purpose in ones self are eternal, and relevant to a child as much as an adult.
Disney’s restoration of Dumbo is beautiful with splashes of intense watercolor, bold primaries, vivid scenery, and appreciation for every paint stroke. You can see visible strokes within the color as characters move, the removal of grain no detriment to the original animation source. It feels tremendously detailed. Even the pencil lines vary in intensity to match the style.
Dumbo’s Blu-ray is such a generously rich piece of work it becomes hard to find what else to heap praise on. The AVC encode has breathing room with such a low running time, letting the images speak for themselves, not the compression. Black levels are intense when they need to be, although most of the film is too colorful. Even the night scenes are given intense, deep blues to keep the sensory explosion coming.
Every shot is sharp, the resolution from what is clearly a new scan evident in every frame. Each backdrop holds more texture now than they ever have before on home video. There are no spots of aliasing or other digital remnant of the transfer process. This is all color, all the time, from the red suit of the mouse to Dumbo’s strong gray. There is nothing to find fault with here.
Dumbo’s opening theme is given plenty of fidelity to work with, dipping into the LFE and brightening the highs to pull them out with little loss. Stereos split and there is a slight hint of surround bleed although this track is a little more restrained. It’s better to present the source with little alterations, but enough to spring it to life in 7.1.
Most effects stick to the center, stray bits of thunder finding their way into the rears. Stereos are tight with a bit of separation if nothing substantial. Dialogue holds firm with few signs of aging. The only qualm comes from the crows who were clearly recorded in different places, some speaking with a faded echo, others matching the standard dialogue. An original mono mix is offered as well.
Two deleted scenes (one of them a song) transition into a half-hour making of that is a must see for animation lovers. Magic of Dumbo is a short promo piece for one of the longest standing rides at Disneyland. A vintage clip about sound design is featured before the DVD piece Celebrating Dumbo is offered. A short intro by Walt Disney was played prior to the TV showing’s premiere. Art galleries, two shorts, and trailers are left.