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Kevin Krock, editor
DVD Review
Dumbo
(1941)
| Approx. 64 Minutes | Rated G | Reviewed by Kevin Krock
Cover Art
Click to Buy
Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)
Audio Video
Goodies Interface
Value
ADVANCED HOME THEATER - Not for the big screen!

The Movie

Promotional art © Disney
Promotional art © Disney

Produced and released during the tumultuous time right before America became involved in World War II, Dumbo was the inexpensive hit that Walt Disney desperately needed to sustain his studio through the early war years after the huge financial failure of Fantasia. Produced in only a year and a half, Dumbo was produced for less than half of what feature films cost before it and immediately after it.

For one reason or another, Walt and his team simply clicked with the concept — of an outcast baby elephant with big ears who learns to fly — and with remarkable clarity of story direction and character design, the movie rolled along like no other Disney film. From its release in October 1941, the simplicity and universal relevance of the story, its wonderfully emotive animation, almost impressionistic backgrounds, and memorable songs, have made this film one of Walt Disney’s all-time classic films — and one of my favorites, too.

The Goodies

When I first heard that Disney was going to produce a special 60th anniversary edition of Dumbo, I was sincerely hoping that Disney would make it special, rather than just giving it lip service. Many of its recent "standard" DVDs have included a pretty decent selection of bonus material, like art galleries, sing-alongs, publicity materials, and animated shorts. Fortunately, this disc is no different, and best of all, it has a few other goodies normally associated with collector’s editions.

Promotional art © Disney
Promotional art © Disney

First of all, there is a nice, 14-minute featurette on the history of Dumbo. Well worth the time to watch, it includes interviews with folks like animation historian John Canemaker and film critic Leonard Maltin, with a lot of great information on how the film was developed and its importance to the Studio. The second item of interest is a six-minute clip on sound design, taken from the 1940 release of The Reluctant Dragon, focusing on how the voice of Casey, Jr. was created. Although it fits in perfectly with Dumbo, I wish Disney would release the whole Reluctant Dragon movie.

Finally, and most interestingly, there is a full- length audio commentary by John Canemaker. The commentary contains a huge amount of background information on just about every aspect of the production. The information is fairly academic, and Canemaker even quotes from several literary sources throughout the track. His delivery is a bit dry and obviously carefully scripted to synchronize with the movie, and his lack of spontaneity reminded me of a few lectures from college. Fortunately, the wealth of information made the difference and kept me interested. This is a great resource for those of you interested in Disney animation history.

Overall, this collection of goodies is quite solid, and Disney has indeed succeeded in making the bonus material on this disc special. (There is also a simple cardboard toy Casey Jr. train included in the package, shown below, which needs to be assembled. It may be a little too complicated for little hands.)

Promotional art © Disney
Promotional art © Disney

The Video, Audio, and Interface

Both the video and audio have been remastered for this DVD release, and the look and sound are considerably better than the old VHS copy I have. The video transfer is quite clean, bright, and detailed for a 60- year- old movie, but the one item that jumped out at me was the noticeable film grain. Noticing this relatively minor flaw may be partially due to the wonderful work Disney performed on the grain elimination for its recent Snow White DVD release, but visible grain in older films is not unexpected and does not diminish the enjoyment of the movie. For all intents and purposes, the video should look good on just about any normal screen size television.

The audio is clear and quite acceptable. Most of the dialog still remains in the center speaker channel, but the music and many other sound effects play through all speaker channels.

Once again, Disney has created a user interface that is right on the mark. The menu opens with Dumbo flying on screen with the menu selections in tow, and all menu selections are transitioned with a screen full of rising balloons and some neat 3-D animation. All of the text is easy to read, and the hierarchy is easy to navigate. I again applaud Disney for making a strong effort to make its user interfaces on all DVD product levels an integral and enjoyable part of the DVD experience.

The Advanced Home Theater...

For being such a workhorse in the Disney library they sure have shorted this delightful little film the respect it should have. Unlike the recent pristine Snow White DVD release, you'll see none of those extensive restoration efforts on this title.

As Kevin mentions in his review - you will notice a LOT of grain on this release. On a big screen it can be so bad it is distracting. One has to wonder if in mastering these releases Disney bothers to check their results on larger video screen sizes. Blown up to 40" on the set I have, the broad surfaces of color that are affected by this grain are like watching wheat fields in the breeze.

Promotional art © Disney
Promotional art © Disney

It's really a shame, since this little movie has performed well over the years - helping keep the studio going during some pretty bad times. But this lack of respect for the little guy is nothing new, most probably due to the film's very short length (just a little over an hour). Perhaps as a result of that, it was one of the first Disney animated films to end up on broadcast TV - the DVD even has Walt Disney's original filmed introduction to the show as a supplemental feature. Also of note - There is a mistake in the bonus section - the two Dumbo film trailers are switched from what the screen link to them says they are.

While the visual suffers, the sound doesn't. The techs have been doing a superb job in remastering these older soundtracks for Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dumbo really shines in this area. There are no surround effect tricks utilized really - the dialog and sound effects pretty much stay in the front center channel, while the music benefits from a slightly expanded dynamic range and a pleasant spread around the multiple channels - helping fill the room with sound. A lot of the distortion heard in past video editions has been diminished by going as far back to the original recordings as is possible and available.

While Disney has provided a rather nice selection of bonus material, there also is unfortunately what seems to be a record number of promotional trailers for what seem to be poor quality animated sequels on this disc. You may want to read a recent Reporter's Notebook piece I did on this subject "Dumbo 2, Audience 0" which further details this.

This edition is a nice step up from past efforts, but the movie still lacks the quality restoration that it deserves. Like Snow White, Dumbo is truly a Disney classic. It should be treated with the same respect afforded the other films in the library. If you have a big screen (anything past 24") you may seriously want to wait for a future re-release on this one.

- Al Lutz

The VHS edition of Dumbo is also available in a set with a plush toy included - Promotional art © Disney
The VHS edition of Dumbo is also available in a set with a plush toy included
Promotional art © Disney

The Final Evaluation

Short of being a full-blown Platinum Collector's edition, this 60th anniversary edition is about as good as it gets. On top of a wonderful story and classic Disney animation, you get a great selection of bonus material and a movie that looks and sounds better than it has in years. Simply put, this is one DVD that you should have in your collection.

Promotional art © Disney
Promotional art © Disney

DVD FEATURES

Goodies

  • Audio commentary by John Canemaker
  • Original Walt Disney TV introduction
  • "Celebrating Dumbo" featurette on the origins and history of Dumbo
  • Animated shorts: "Elmer Elephant" & "The Flying Mouse"
  • Sound design - Excerpt from The Relucant Dragon
  • Storybook read-Along
  • Art gallery
  • DVD-ROM content
  • Michael Crawford Music Video, "Baby Mine"
  • Dumbo II sneak peek
  • Folding cardboard Casey, Jr. Train toy (assembly required)

Technical Specifications

  • Region 1 Encoded
  • Single-sided, dual-layer
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Spanish and French language tracks
  • 17 chapters
  • English subtitles
  • Full-screen (theatrical format) - 1.33:1
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