Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Day Two - Dumbo

Movie: Dumbo
Released: October 23, 1941
Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Formats Released: 2 Betamax Editions, 6 VHS Editions, 3 LaserDisc Editions, 3 DVD Editions, 1 Blu-Ray
Format Watched: 60th Anniversary DVD
Watched with: My dogs, Belle and Woody
Snacks: Hershey's Nuggets (Milk Chocolate & Milk Chocolate with almonds) Diet Cherry 7-UP

Dumbo was released at an interesting time for the studio. In the 3 years leading up to it, Walt Disney Presents had released 3 films, only one of which was a success - Snow White. The studio needed to make up for the loses of Pinocchio and Fantasia. Their solution was Dumbo. It was the cheapest film made by the studio at the time, it cost about $850,000, and it made over $2,000,000 in its first run. That was more money that Pinocchio and Fantasia combined.

Since the movie was designed to make a much money as possible everything was streamlined. If, like me, you thought that Snow White was a tight film, Dumbo really takes the cake. Everything was designed to save the studio money. It went back to watercolor on white paper backgrounds, all the characters and set pieces were simple with little detail. For most of the background human characters they don't even have faces just the suggestion of a head to cut down on animation time. Even it's running time was compressed, down to 64 minutes. Given all this, Dumbo was still a great film.

My thoughts on the film:

It has been a long time since I've seen Dumbo, the 60th Anniversary Edition came out in 2001 and that was probably the last time I saw it. It's always been one of those movies that just sits in the collection but we never do anything with it. After watching today I can't think of why its been so long since I've watched it.

One of the neat things about Dumbo was that it was the first Walt Disney Pictures film to set in the United States. It starts in Florida, my home state, and then travels to un-named states. The film saw the introduction of two great voice actors to the Disney stable, Sterling Holloway, who would go on to do Winnie the Pooh and many other Disney characters, and Verna Felton, both of whom would be involved with Disney for 35+ years. Dumbo was a cash cow for Disney. It was the first Disney film to be released into the home market and it has been in constant publication since 1981.

All that said the animation is great. Disney had a lot to deal with during the production of this movie, mostly a animators strike (the animators were parodied as the clowns asking for a raise). The backgrounds are simple and unobtrusive, they get the job done in a quick, clean style. The character animation is fantastic, although sometimes the elephants heads seem to come detached from the bodies. Dumbo and Timothy are superb, drawn in a clean style that would be used on many later films.

The soundtrack was good, I didn't really notice the incidental music, but the songs are classics. "Baby Mine" still causes me to tear up.

Favorite Part of the Movie:

It's safe to say that it's the Elephants on Parade scene, which many people will agree with. How can you not like 4 minutes and 30 seconds of psychedelic elephants! I don't know who came up with the scene because it only barely fits into the film, it's how Dumbo gets in the tree, but they must of been out there or on something. The scene is just crazy, elephants turning into snakes, turning strange colors and in about the middle there is just a creepy eye staring out of the screen. It's strange and fantastic at the same time.

Things I never noticed before:
- The female elephants are all wearing eye shadow.
- The stork has Winnie the Pooh's voice
- The name of the circus is WDP Circus (Walt Disney Productions)
- Dumbo has no lines in the movie and his mother only has 1 line
- One of the crows, the one with glasses, has red eyes and another is smoking a cigar on a stick, a joint maybe?

Final Thoughts:

When you consider it for what it is, a way to recover some of the loses from previous films and later a great source of income for Disney, it is great movie. Dumbo doesn't talk, yet still you know what he is feeling. The juxtaposition of a mouse as an elephants sidekick works to reinforce his outsider status. Just the emotion you get from two trunks touching during "Baby Mine" is fantastic. That this was made as quickly and cheaply as possible just highlights the animators skill.

I did some reading up on the film at Wikipedia and IMDB, which I encourage everyone to do when watching a film at home, and there are some neat facts in there. It is the only Walt Disney Animated theatrical film where the title character does not speak. It won the 1941 Academy Award for Best Score (I might have to go back and re-listen to it). The drunk Timothy uses Mickey's laugh.

It was an idea that Walt took some time to warm up to but it became his favorite film. It's not my favorite film, but I am also warming up to it.

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