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Dumbo (1941) – DVD Review

dumbo dvd review


Written by: Joe Grant & Dick Huemer, based on a story by Aurie Battaglia, Otto Englander, Bill Peet, Joe Rinaldi, Webb Smith & Vernon Stallings, which was in turn based on the book by Helen Aberson & Harold Perl
Directed by: Ben Sharpsteen
Starring: Edward Brophy, Cliff Edwards, Sterling Holloway, Herman Bing, Verna Felton


  • Running commentary with animation historian John Canemaker
  • Music video for Michael Crawford’s rendition of “Baby Mine”
  • Trailers for Peter Pan 2, Cinderella 2 and The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2
  • Exclusive look at Dumbo 2
  • Art gallery featuring concept art
  • Original Walt Disney TV Introduction
  • “Celebrating Dumbo” Featurette
  • Sound design segment
  • Dumbo “DVD Storybook”
  • Silly Symphonies: “Elmer Elephant” and “The Flying Mouse”
  • Sing-Along Songs: “Look Out For Mr. Stork” and “Casey Jr.”
  • Theatrical trailers

Released by: Walt Disney Video
Region: 1
Rating: G
Anamorphic: N/A, appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Own It.

[ad#longpost]When Mrs. Jumbo the elephant gets delivered a little package from that stork guy, she gets more than she bargained for. The little tyke is adorable and all, but he has got a lot to offer in the ear department, if you get what I mean. Ridiculed by his fellow elephants and turned into a laughing stock by the humans who visit the circus he’s a part of, little Dumbo’s prospects seem extremely dim. Dim, that is, until a little mouse by the name of Timothy (Brophy) comes along to point him in the right direction.

It’s hard not to like this movie–not that I’ve ever tried very hard to dislike it, mind you. Its much-touted universal theme of growing up and trying to figure out what to do with [insert thing one hates about oneself here] can’t be denied. We’ve all had those things about ourselves, and we can all relate to the flying elephant. For a little film that streaked through production, comparatively speaking, it works and works well. And…hell, the thing’s only sixty-four minutes in length. I sure didn’t remember it being that short–probably because it’s put together so well you never consider how little time you’ve invested to get back so much.

Now…maybe I’m spoiled after seeing Disney’s recent turn at a serious entry into DVDsville, that of their stellar offering of Snow White. But I don’t think that’s just it. I think this disc has a lot to disappoint. But before I get out the wiffle bat, let’s talk about what is right.

dumbo construction sheet

For the most part, the best part of the disc is John Canemaker’s running commentary. Not content to just cover what’s happening on screen and discuss the imagery you’re seeing, he also runs down with quick biographies for the animators that work on a particular section. That’s really a fascinating concept when you think about it. As a kid, one has no clue that different teams of people are sweating blood to create these things. Hell, some of you probably that “Walt Disney’s Dumbo” literally meant that Walt drew the thing himself. So it’s refreshing to hear, yes, there were flesh and blood real people that worked on this thing, and they were just like the rest of us.

And…well, that’s about it. Some of what’s offered is good, but it’s just mismanaged. For example, the “Celebrating Dumbo” featurette. Many, many people are rolled out to give their opinions of the film. Trouble is…who the hell are these whackos? The names appear on the screen, but apart from Roy Disney, Canemaker and film critic Leonard Maltin–whose occupations are known to most–what do the others have to do with anything? Are they film historians? animation historians? animators? Sure, I recognized some of them from the Snow White discs, but their words mean nothing without a context to put them in. Silly, silly mistake.

dumbo baby mine

Speaking of context, there’s a nifty little “Sound Design” bit that runs through the foley work that was done on the film, including the secret behind Casey Jr’s cool train voice effect. Trouble is…when it first came on, I had no idea what it was. Was it in black and white because it’s a simulation done to show us what it used to be like working foley back then? Was it from the Disneyland TV show? A little screen telling us where the damn thing came from would have been nice.

There’s a lot on here that’s useless to downright annoying. In the latter category falls the menus. They almost all have the rolicking circus theme music that opens the film playing along with them. Now that doesn’t sound too bad in print, but when you finish a segment and pop back out to the menu, to be greeted by that raucous din OVER and OVER and OVER is enough to make one thankful one has easy to use remotes nearby.

Very annoying is the Crawford video. It broke my Velveetometer, it was so cheese-ridden. Featuring Michael waving to a Dumbo that’s flying away, and using lots of slowed-down animation from the film–which makes it lose any magic of motion it had, it’s a terrible version as well. Why not use the version of “Baby Mine” that Bonnie Raitt and Was (not was) provided for the Stay Awake compilation? That would have been ideal.

Last thing I’d like to point out are the soul-destroying trailers for upcoming travesties from the studio–including the theatrical release of Peter Pan: Return to Neverland, and the direct-to-video Cinderella 2, Dumbo 2 and The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2. I wish Disney would focus on the viability of their collective franchise and not so much on the quick buck. Maybe if they did, they wouldn’t have to be relying on Pixar for their big performers. Ah well.

All of that vitriol having been spilled, I will say that it’s still Dumbo. And since this is the best we’re going to get on DVD for it, it’s worth having because it’s vintage Disney. And vintage Disney always ages well. So nab it.