Release Date(s)1941 (September 20, 2011)
Studio(s)Buena Vista Home Entertainment
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A-
Underdog stories have always had a special place in people’s hearts long before cinema came along, and will continue to do so regardless of what form they come in. In the case of Dumbo, it sailed into moviegoer’s hearts on Halloween in 1941 and has remained one of Disney’s most popular films ever since. Not too shabby for a circus elephant with extra large ears for wings.
To be honest, Dumbo has never been one of my favorite films in the Disney animated library... not even my top ten. However, I do appreciate it and I think it’s a wonderful story. At 63 minutes, it’s also one of the shortest animated features that the company ever produced. The original story itself didn’t have that much to it but the animation and writing teams behind the adaptation of it managed to pad it out with more story, while simultaneously being experimental with the medium in the process. Dumbo is also special because it was one of the last projects that Walt Disney himself was ever directly involved with creatively. The Disney studio at the time was a growing company and required its founder and owner to be elsewhere. In turn, Walt handed the creative reins over to his key people for the entertainment output while he ran the company. So in that regard, Dumbo is particularly noteworthy. It also came after the financial loss of Fantasia, regarded now as a masterpiece many years later. As a film, Dumbo is technically ingenious and has the ability to easily pull on one’s heart strings, but for me, it’s never been one that I’ve wanted to see over and over again like some of the other classics. Regardless of how I feel about it, Dumbo was a successful film for the studio and touched people all over the world.
For its debut on Blu-ray, Disney has once again done a tremendous job in the A/V department. The film has always been seen as a big screen version of a Silly Symphony in style, design and execution, and the quality seen on this disc certainly reflects that. Every single bit of minute image detail is extremely crisp and clean. Controversial to some, the film grain has indeed been erased from the image (as it has in all of Disney’s recent restorations), but by doing so, it opens up the possibilities of the image rather than limit them. All of the colors and background details are now crystal clear and help to recreate the actual animation cels rather than limit the film negative’s quality. Every line drawn, every watercolor splotched and every element inherent in the original image is now seen in the very best of digital clarity. For the audio portion, you have two options: a newly-created English 7.1 DTS-HD track and a restored English 2.0 mono track. Simply for the purist in me, I prefer the mono over the DTS. Despite the overall sound scheme being a bit on the tinny side, it’s still great to hear the soundtrack as it was originally intended. The 7.1 track is pretty good, but given the age of the material it’s culled from, it doesn’t really work as a modern soundtrack. To be fair, it has some immersive aspects to it, but not enough of them. There are a few moments when the sound moves to the rear speakers and the bass gets put to work, but there’s nothing particularly impressive about it through the channels that it’s being presented on. So for my money, I’d stick with the mono track as it best represents the film at hand. There are also two additional audio options: both French and Spanish 5.1 Disney-Enhanced Home Theater Mixes (DEHT), as well as subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish for those who might need them.
The supplements for this 70th Anniversary Edition release provide a mixed bag of new and old material, and not all of it has been carried over from previous releases. As far as the new material is concerned, you have several options to choose from. First is the Disney View experience, which basically fills in the blank space on the left and right of the 4:3 image with newly-drawn artwork. Second is the Cine-Explore experience, which features a picture-in-picture audio commentary with Pixar director of animation Peter Docter, Disney historian Paula Sigman and Disney animator Andreas Deja. Mixed in with the commentary are various interviews from animators who worked on the film, as well as artwork, storyboards, etc, to go with it. The Backstage Disney portion contains the mini-documentary Taking Flight: The Making of Dumbo, The Magic of Dumbo: A Ride of Passage featurette, which covers the world-famous ride at Disneyland and also a set of Art Galleries. There are also two deleted scenes and the Disney Family Play option, which contains the two games What Do You See? and What Do You Know?. Carried over from the previous DVD releases is the sound design excerpt from The Reluctant Dragon, the Celebrating Dumbo featurette, the Original Walt Disney TV Introduction, the 1941 theatrical trailer and 1949 re-release trailer, and finally, two bonus animated shorts: Elmer Elephant and The Flying Mouse. The DVD that’s been included contains the deleted scenes, the mini-documentary, The Magic of Dumbo: Ride of Passage featurette, the audio commentary (audio only), the sound design excerpt, the Original Walt Disney TV Introduction and the two trailers. The DVD also features English, French and Spanish 5.1 Disney-Enhanced Home Theater Mix tracks with English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
Missing from the 60th Anniversary Edition DVD is the audio commentary with Disney historian John Canemaker, the Sound Design: Creating the Voice of Casey Jr. featurette, the DVD Storybook Read-Along, two Sing-Alongs: Look Out for Mr. Stork and Casey Jr., the Baby Mine music video by Michael Crawford, the sneak peek at Dumbo II and the DVD-ROM content. Missing from the Big Top Edition DVD is the DisneyPedia: My First Circus game and another Baby Mine music video by Jim Brickman and Kassie DePaiva. Most of this material is, of course, aimed at children and not all that important, but the audio commentary is a major loss and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t have been included. So my suggestion would be that if you already own that release then hang on to it because the commentary is invaluable.
Many have speculated that the film’s success was due to it being simple in narrative and so rich in character that the style didn’t matter much to audiences. I would have to agree with that statement. If you put believable and relatable characters into a film that an audience can read into without heavy-handed exposition, then the character’s surroundings shouldn’t matter. Not surprisingly, Dumbo is latched onto these days by children more so than adults because of that simple nature. Thankfully it isn’t so simple that adults can’t enjoy it, but watching it does make you feel like a kid all over again, which is an easy thing to do with this great new Blu-ray release.
- Tim Salmons