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|Kevin Krock, editor|
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.
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.
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.)
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 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.
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