Dumbo: Special Edition

January 28, 2012 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Animation is more and more common these days, but it’s due to the groundbreaking work done by one Walt Disney some 60 years ago. Just as the studio’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs set a standard for a full-length animated film, Dumbo was yet another jewel in Disney’s crown. According to one of the featurettes on the disc, Dumbo was Walt Disney’s favorite movie. It wasn’t based on any previous story, so they could make things up as they went along and, according to him, it was meant to be an uplifting story (no pun intended). Odds are that most everyone reading this has either seen Dumbo themselves or with their kids, so I won’t delve too much in to the plot. But Dumbo is one of the most recognizable characters of any of the Disney line of classic animation. The little elephant with the big ears! I tend not to agree with Mr. Disney, though, as when I was watching Dumbo again, I found it very sad and alomst upsetting. Dumbo is a social commentary of sorts, as the elephant is ridiculed by the other elephants and humans alike just because he is physically different than what society percieves to be “the norm”. It seems that his mother, Jumbo, is the only one who can see past his physical “flaw” and love him for what he truly is…her son.

Set way back in time when storks still delivered babies (I won’t go too deep into that, but this is a kids movie), the animals of a certain traveling circus are all anxious to get their new young. Whether it be a new baby giraffe, a new litter of Tigers or a certain new little elephant with some awfully big ears! Jumbo the elephant is a mild-mannered elephant who is expecting her new arrival. When everyone else’s comes, she loses hope as the circus moves on to another town. But as we see the stork who seems to have lost his way, she is a mother after all (much to the anticipation of the other elephants). The little elephant, of course, is Dumbo (Jumbo Jr. actually) and as we all know…he has a gift. Dumbo is immediately made fun of and outcast by the other elephants and during a road show is mocked by the humans. Naturally this angers Jumbo who goes on a rampage to protect her little Dumbo. Jumbo is secluded to a cage marked “Mad Elephant” and Dumbo is left to the circus. Things proceed like this and Dumbo is marketed as some sort of circus freak, that is until that he uses his gift. Those big ears are good for something and it turns out that he can fly! Dumbo, the flying elephant. While the plot is predictable, and the movie is short (64 minutes), it’s an all-time classic movie that shouldn’t be missed. Heck…it can even evoke a tear or two in the right spot.

Video: How does it look?

Unlike Disney’s new Snow White DVD, Dumbo didn’t receive the same top-notch treatment that the fairest one of all did. Still, Dumbo (despite it’s age) looks remarkably good and it’s the best version out there, far exceeding the VHS editions of past. There tends to be some artifacting, and it’s most noticeable on the matte paintings that are so commonly used in the film. A tiny bit of edge enhancement is also noticeable, but with animation it’s kind of hard to compare it to a full-length “human” movie. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Some scenes do appear a bit more clear than others, but on the whole, I don’t think you’ll be complaining too much about how this looks. Kids will certainly be engrossed in the story and won’t care how much edge enhancement or artifacting there is! Dumbo looks great all things considered.

Audio: How does it sound?

Dumbo has been remastered in a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack which doesn’t really sound that bad. For a movie 60 years old, they have done a rather decent job taking advantage of all 5.1 channels. During several storm scenes, the thunder and lightning radiate through all the channels, a depth I would not thought imaginable from a cartoon of this age. The sound does sound good, without sounding “fake” or “hollow”. Naturally, it’s easier to do this with animation as opposed to a real movie, but Dumbo doesn’t really sound that bad. Now granted, this isn’t something you can demo your system with (I know I mention that a lot, but it’s a good comparison), but perhaps the sound can make the movie more realistic and can get you that much more involved in the movie. Isn’t that the whole point?

Supplements: What are the extras?

Again, while Dumbo doesn’t have near the supplements that Show White has, it’s got some pretty interesting extras. First up is the audio commentary by film historian John Canemaker. You might recall him from tracks on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Fantasia. Canemaker provides a very insightful commentary here, speaking as a historian. He manages to talk for about 63 of the 64 minutes and it’s a very interesting, fact-filled commentary track. Maybe not one that your kids will like, but if you want to know more about the movie then this is required watching (er, listening). In the stream of Barbara Striesand’s music video on Snow White, we have Michael Crawford crooning “Baby Mine” as we heard him on the Disney album. It’s sentimental and sappy with images from the movie, but it’s supposed to be. There is an art gallery, which I’m never too fond of, but this is rather interesting. It has some conceptual art and some that’s never been seen before. As I mentioned above, Walt Disney himself introduces the movie (obviously it’s old) as regards it as his favorite animated movie. The first few seconds of the stork are also shown, also in black and white. Celebrating Dumbo is a 15 minute featurette that has some interviews with film critics (Maltin, Behlmer…) and some staff of Disney who all praise the movie. By this time, we all know it’s a classic and they’re essentially telling us what they know. It’s kind of filler and fluff, but it’s a nice feature. Next up is a featurette on sound design and how they created the voice of Casey Jr. Casey Jr., of course, is that famous little train who popularized the phrase “I think I can, I think I can…”. To my surprise, a woman voiced the part and Disney even gives you a little paper version of Casey Jr. You have to put it together, though. Some sing along songs are also included, for “Look Out for Mr. Stork” and “Casey Jr.” and is it me or are these sing a long songs becoming more and more popular? A Dumbo DVD Storybook, which is the sole DVD-ROM content of the disc, but it’s fun if your computer is so equipped. Some publicity materials and the trailer and re-release trailer are included. And, no, it’s not you…they reversed the two. Even Disney makes mistakes…

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