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Original theatrical release poster
|Produced by||Walt Disney|
by Helen Aberson
|Narrated by||John McLeish|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
|Box office||$1.6 million|
Dumbo is a 1941 American animated film produced by Walt Disney Productions and released by RKO Radio Pictures. The fourth Disney animated feature film, it is based upon the storyline written by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Pearl for the prototype of a novelty toy ("Roll-a-Book"). The main character is Jumbo Jr., a semi-anthropomorphic elephant who is cruelly nicknamed "Dumbo", as in "dumb". He is ridiculed for his big ears, but in fact he is capable of flying by using his ears as wings. Throughout most of the film, his only true friend, aside from his mother, is the mouse, Timothy – a relationship parodying the stereotypical animosity between mice and elephants.
Dumbo was released on October 23, 1941; made to recoup the financial losses of Fantasia, it was a deliberate pursuit of simplicity and economy for the Disney studio. At 64 minutes, it is one of Disney's shortest animated features. Sound was recorded conventionally using the RCA System. One voice was synthesized using the Sonovox system, but it, too, was recorded using the RCA System.
A flock of storks deliver babies while circus animals are being transported by train from their "Winter Quarters". Mrs. Jumbo, one of the elephants, receives her baby, who is soon made fun of by the other elephants because of his large ears, and they nickname him "Dumbo". After locking the elephants, Mrs. Jumbo starts to cuddle Dumbo.
When a storm comes, they have to help set up the circus tents together, including the elephants; afterwards, they have a parade through town. However, Dumbo ends up in a muddy puddle, so Mrs. Jumbo has to wash him. When a group of boys torment Dumbo, Mrs. Jumbo responds by attacking the boys, and losing her temper in confusion. Mrs. Jumbo is deemed mad and suspended in a cage. Dumbo is shunned by the other elephants, and with no parent to care for him, he is now alone. Timothy Q. Mouse, who feels sympathy for Dumbo and becomes determined to help regain his spirits, appoints himself as Dumbo's mentor and protector.
After being secretly encouraged by Timothy, the circus director makes Dumbo the top of an elephant pyramid stunt. The performance goes awry as Dumbo trips over his ears and misses his target, causing the other elephants to suffer various injuries, and bring down the big top. Dumbo is made into a clown as a result, officially having the other elephants deem him no longer one of them, and plays the main role in an act that involves him falling into a vat of pie filling. Despite his newfound popularity and fame, Dumbo dislikes this job, and is now more miserable than ever.
To cheer Dumbo up, Timothy takes him to visit his mother; on the way back, Dumbo cries and then starts to hiccup, so Timothy takes him for a drink of water from a bucket which, unknown to them, has accidentally had a bottle of champagne knocked into it by the clowns. As a result, Dumbo and Timothy both become drunk, and see hallucinations of pink elephants.
The next morning, Dumbo and Timothy wake up in a tree, but soon fall into a lake; Timothy wonders how they got up in the tree, and concludes that Dumbo flew up there using his large ears as wings. With the help from a group of crows, Timothy is able to get Dumbo to fly again, using a psychological trick of a "magic feather" to boost his confidence.
Back at the circus, Dumbo performs the same stunt, which involves jumping from a high building. On the way down, Dumbo loses the feather; Timothy quickly tells him that the feather was never magical, and that he is still able to fly. Dumbo is able to pull out of the dive and flies around the circus, finally striking back at his tormentors as a stunned audience looks on in amazement. After this performance, Dumbo becomes a media sensation, Timothy becomes his manager, and Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo are given a private car on the circus train.
The voice actors are uncredited for their roles in the film.
Dumbo is based upon a children's story written by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Pearl that was prepared to demonstrate the prototype of a toy storytelling display device called Roll-A-Book, which was similar in principle to a panorama. It involved only eight drawings and just a few lines of text, and had Red Robin as Dumbo's ally instead of Timothy Mouse.
Dumbo was first brought to the attention of Walt Disney in late 1939 by Disney's head of merchandise licensing Kay Kamen, who showed a prototype of the Roll-A-Book that included Dumbo. Disney immediately grasped its possibilities and heartwarming story and purchased the rights to it.
Originally it was intended to be a short film; however, Disney soon found that the only way to do justice to the book was to make it feature-length. At the time, the Disney Studio was in serious financial trouble due to the war in Europe, which caused Pinocchio and Fantasia to fail at the box office, with the result that Dumbo was intended to be a low-budget feature designed to bring revenue to the studio. Storymen Dick Huemer and Joe Grant were the primary figures in developing the plot. They wrote the script in chapters, much like a book, an unusual way of writing a film script. Regardless of this, very little was changed from the original draft.
None of the voice actors for Dumbo received screen credit, much like in Snow White and Pinocchio. Timothy Mouse was voiced by Edward Brophy, a character actor known for portraying gangsters. He has no other known animation voice credit. The semi-antagonistic circus director was voiced by Herman Bing, a German-American character actor remembered for his wild-eyed facial expressions and thick German accent in several comedy works. The pompous matriarch of the elephants was voiced by Verna Felton, who also voiced the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, and Flora of the Three Good Fairies in Sleeping Beauty. Other voice actors include the perennial Sterling Holloway in appearing as Mr. Stork, Cliff Edwards, better known as the voice of Jiminy Cricket, as Jim Crow, the leader of the crows, and John McLeish, best known for narrating the Goofy "How To" cartoons, providing the opening narration.
When the film went into production in early 1941, supervising director Ben Sharpsteen was given orders to keep the film simple and inexpensive. As a result, Dumbo lacks the lavish detail of the previous three Disney animated features (Fantasia, Pinocchio, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs): character designs are simpler, background paintings are less detailed, and a number of held cels (or frames) were used in the character animation. Although the film is more "cartoony" than previous Disney films the animators brought elephants and other animals into the studio to study their movement.
Watercolor paint was used to render the backgrounds. Dumbo is one of the few Disney features to use the technique, which was also used for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and regularly employed for the various Disney cartoon shorts. The other Disney features used oil paint and gouache. 2002's Lilo & Stitch, which drew influences from Dumbo, also made use of watercolor backgrounds.
During the production of Dumbo, Herbert Sorrell, leader of the Screen Cartoonist's Guild, demanded Disney sign with his union, rather than the IATSE, with which Disney had already signed. Disney declined, saying that he would put it to a vote. Sorrel again demanded that Disney sign with his union, but Disney once again refused. On May 29, 1941, shortly after rough animation on Dumbo was complete, much of the Disney studio staff went on strike. A number of strikers are caricatured in the feature as clowns who go to "hit the big boss for a raise". The strike lasted five weeks, and ended the "family" atmosphere and camaraderie at the studio.
Completed in fall 1941, Disney's distributor RKO Radio Pictures initially balked at the film's 64-minute length and wanted Disney to either make it longer, edit it down to a short subject length, or allow them to release it as a B-movie. Disney refused all three options, and RKO reluctantly issued Dumbo, unaltered, as an A-film.
On Classic Disney: 60 Years of Musical Magic, "Pink Elephants on Parade" is included on the green disc, "Baby Mine" is on the purple disc, and "When I See an Elephant Fly" is on the orange disc. On Disney's Greatest Hits, "Pink Elephants on Parade" is on the red disc.
Along with Alice in Wonderland, Dumbo was the first of Disney's canon of animated films to be released on home video. The film was originally released on June 26, 1981 on VHS and Betamax, followed by a Laserdisc release in June 1982 and then once again on VHS and Betamax as part of Walt Disney Classics Video Collection release on December 3, 1985.
The film was then remastered in 1986 and 1989 and released on VHS and Laserdisc as a 50th Anniversary Edition of Dumbo on July 12, 1991, followed by an October 28, 1994 VHS and Laserdisc release as a part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection. On October 23, 2001, a 60th Anniversary Edition was released in VHS and DVD formats. In 2006, a "Big Top Edition" of the film was released on DVD, followed by a UK Special Edition release in May 2007.
A 70th Anniversary Edition of the film was released in the United States on September 20, 2011. The 70th Anniversary Edition was produced in two different packages: a 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack and a 1-disc DVD. The film was also released as a movie download. All versions of the 70th Anniversary Edition contain deleted scenes and several bonus features, including "Taking Flight: The Making of Dumbo" and "The Magic of Dumbo: A Ride of Passage," while the 2-disc Blu-ray version additionally includes games, animated shorts, and several exclusive features.
The film was re-released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 26, 2016 to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
Despite the advent of World War II, Dumbo was still the most financially successful Disney film of the 1940s. After its October 23 release, Dumbo proved to be a financial miracle compared to other Disney films. The simple film only cost $950,000 (equivalent to $15,810,000 in 2017) to produce, half the cost of Snow White, less than a third of the cost of Pinocchio, and certainly less than the expensive Fantasia. Dumbo eventually grossed $1.6 million (equivalent to $26,620,000 in 2017) during its original release; it and Snow White were the only two pre-1943 Disney features to turn a profit. The film was re-released in theaters in 1949, 1959, 1972, and 1976.
Reviews for the film at its initial release were largely positive. Variety said that Dumbo was "a pleasant little story, plenty of pathos mixed with the large doses of humor, a number of appealing new animal characters, lots of good music, and the usual Disney skillfulness in technique". Cecilia Ager, writing in PM, called Dumbo "the nicest, kindest Disney yet", and Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, said that the film was "the most genial, the most endearing, the most completely precious cartoon feature film ever to emerge from the magical brushes of Walt Disney's wonder-working artists". TIME responded to the reception of the film with plans to name the character as its "Mammal of the Year" (a play on its annual "Man/Person of the Year" honor), with an appearance on the cover of the magazine's edition of December 29, 1941. However, the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 of that year shifted the news cycle away from Dumbo, although the previously planned essay on the film, with a more appropriate introduction, appeared in the December 29 issue's "Cinema" section.
Today, the film holds a 97% rating at movie aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Film critic Leonard Maltin described it as "One of Walt Disney's most charming animated films". In 2011, TIME named it one of "The 25 All-TIME Best Animated Films".
Dumbo won the 1941 Academy Award for Best Original Score, awarded to musical directors Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace. Churchill and lyricist Ned Washington were also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Baby Mine" (the song that plays during Dumbo's visit to his mother's cell), but did not win for this category. The film also won Best Animation Design at the 1947 Cannes Film Festival.
|1941||Academy Awards||Best Scoring of a Musical Picture||Won|
|Best Original Song
(For the song "Baby Mine")
|1947||Cannes Film Festival||Best Animation Design||Won|
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
Writer Richard Schickel charged that the crow characters in the film are African-American stereotypes in his book, The Disney Version (1968). The leader crow, played by Cliff Edwards, was originally named "Jim Crow" for script purposes. However, all of the other crows were voiced by African-American actors, who were all members of the popular all-black Hall Johnson Choir. Despite suggestions by writers such as Schickel who have criticized the portrayal as racist, other writers have rejected these claims. Defenders note that the crows form the majority of the characters in the movie who are sympathetic to Dumbo's plight, that they are free spirits who bow to no one, and that they are intelligent characters aware of the power of self-confidence, unlike the Stepin Fetchit stereotype common in the previous decade. Furthermore, the crows' song "When I See An Elephant Fly", which uses intricate wordplay in the lyrics, is oriented more toward mocking Timothy Mouse than Dumbo's large ears.
In July 2017, after being inaugurated as a Disney Legend, Whoopi Goldberg expressed a desire for the crow characters to be merchandised by Disney, "because those crows sing the song in Dumbo that everybody remembers."
Dumbo's Circus was a live-action/puppet television series for preschool audiences that aired on The Disney Channel in the 1980s. Unlike in the film, Dumbo spoke on the show. Each character would perform a special act, which ranged from dancing and singing to telling knock knock jokes.
Dumbo appears in the popular PlayStation 2 game Kingdom Hearts in the form of a summon that the player can call upon in battle for aid. Sora, the protagonist, flies on him and Dumbo splashes enemies with water from his trunk.
The Ringmaster appears as one of four villains in Disney's Villains' Revenge. In the game, the Disney Villains alter the happy endings from Jiminy Cricket's book; in particular, the Ringmaster forces Dumbo to endlessly perform humiliating stunts in his circus. In the end, the Ringmaster is defeated when he is knocked unconscious by a well-aimed custard pie.
In 2001, the "60th Anniversary Edition" DVD of Dumbo featured a sneak peek of the proposed sequel Dumbo II, including new character designs and storyboards. Robert C. Ramirez (Joseph: King of Dreams) was to direct the sequel, in which Dumbo and his circus friends navigated a large city after being left behind by their traveling circus. Dumbo II also sought to explain what happened to Dumbo's father, Mr. Jumbo. Dumbo's circus friends included the chaotic twin bears Claude and Lolly, the curious zebra Dot, the older, independent hippo Godfry, and the adventurous ostrich Penny. The animals were metaphors for the different stages of childhood. Dumbo II was supposed to be set on the day immediately following the end of the first Dumbo movie. John Lasseter cancelled Dumbo II, soon after being named Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2006.
On July 8, 2014, it was announced that a live-action re-imagining of Dumbo was in development. In the same announcement, Ehren Kruger was confirmed as the screenwriter, as well as co-producer with Justin Springer. On March 10, 2015, Tim Burton was announced as the director. On January 11, 2017, it was reported that Will Smith is in talks to star in the remake as the father of some children who befriend Dumbo. That same day, it was revealed that Tom Hanks had reportedly been offered to play the film's villain. The following month, it was announced that Smith would not be starring in the film. Smith had apparently passed on the project due to a disagreement over salary and scheduling as well as to star in Bad Boys for Life. In March 2017, it was reported that Eva Green was in talks to play a trapeze artist. Following this announcement, Danny DeVito was cast as a ringleader named Medici. Two weeks later, it was reported that Colin Farrell had entered negotiations to play the role of Holt, which was originally offered to Will Smith. On April 4, 2017, Michael Keaton, Burton's former frequent collaborator, entered talks to star as the villain. Keaton confirmed his involvement with the film on June 26, 2017. Filming will be taking place at Cardington Studios in Bedfordshire, England. On July 15, 2017, Disney announced the casting for all of the principal roles and that the film would be released on March 29, 2019. DeObia Oparei, Joseph Gatt and Alan Arkin will also play new characters created for the film.
It should be noted that Tim Burton’s Dumbo is also building sets at Cardington, so some of these props and set pieces could be for that film as well. What do you think the structure could be? Hall of Justice? Watchtower? Steppenwolf’s lair? Dumbo’s circus?
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