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Dumbo

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Dumbo
Dumbo-1941-poster.jpg
Original theatrical release poster
Directed bySupervising director:
Ben Sharpsteen
Sequence directors:
Norman Ferguson
Wilfred Jackson
Bill Roberts
Jack Kinney
Samuel Armstrong
Produced byWalt Disney
Story byOtto Englander
Joe Grant
Dick Huemer
Based onDumbo, the Flying Elephant
by Helen Aberson
Harold Pearl
StarringEdward Brophy
Herman Bing
Margaret Wright
Sterling Holloway
Verna Felton
Cliff Edwards
Narrated byJohn McLeish
Music byFrank Churchill
Oliver Wallace
Production
company
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • October 23, 1941 (1941-10-23) (New York City)[1]
  • October 31, 1941 (1941-10-31) (U.S.)
Running time
64 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$950,000[2]
Box office$1.3 million (est. United States/Canada rentals, 1941)[3]

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 Harold Pearl, and illustrated by Helen Durney for the prototype of a novelty toy ("Roll-a-Book").[4][5] 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.

In 2017, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[6]

A live-action adaptation of the film directed by Tim Burton was released on March 29, 2019.

Plot

Upon the passing of winter, a flock of storks deliver babies to circus animals within the "Winter Quarters" in Florida. All the mothers receive their parcels before departure except the elephant Mrs. Jumbo. During travel, a lost stork brings her an elephant who, to the other elephants' surprise, is adorned with extraordinarily large ears. He is made an object of ridicule and given the nickname "Dumbo". Mrs. Jumbo attempts to remain dignified and treats her child with all her maternal love, but when a group of rascals takes to mocking Dumbo, Mrs. Jumbo catches one of them with her trunk and spanks him. The circus ringmaster deems Mrs. Jumbo mad and has her locked in a cage. The lone Dumbo is made a pariah amongst the rest of the circus troupe. A small mouse named Timothy consoles Dumbo and vows to make him a star.

After being secretly encouraged by Timothy, the ringmaster 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, to the shame of the other elephants, 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 imprisoned mother. The two are unable to see each other face to face, and can only entwine trunks. 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 spilled into it by the clowns. As a result, Dumbo and Timothy both become drunk and have surreal hallucinations of pink elephants.

The next morning, Dumbo and Timothy are awakened by a group of crows who are surprised to find an elephant sitting on the highest branches of a tree. As the initial astonishment passes, Timothy surmises that Dumbo had managed to achieve flight using his large ears as wings. Timothy persuades Dumbo to use this gift with the support of the crows' leader, who gives Dumbo one of his feathers and convinces him that it carries magic properties that will allow him to fly. Back at the circus, Timothy proposes to Dumbo that he transform his clown act into a flying performance. As Dumbo unfolds his ears during the plummet, he loses the feather and panics. Timothy quickly confesses 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.

Voice cast

The voice actors are uncredited for their roles in the film.

  • The title character is Dumbo, the nickname given to Jumbo Jr. He is an elephant who has huge ears and is able to use them to fly, carrying what he thinks of as a magic feather. Like Dopey in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Gideon in Pinocchio, and Tootles in Peter Pan, Dumbo does not have a word of spoken dialogue.
  • Edward Brophy as Timothy Q. Mouse, an anthropomorphic mouse who becomes the only friend of Dumbo after his mother is locked up and does his best to make Dumbo happy again. He teaches Dumbo how to become the "ninth wonder of the universe", and the only flying elephant in the world. He is never mentioned by name in the film, but his signature can be read on the contract in a newspaper photograph at the finale.
  • Verna Felton as Elephant Matriarch, the well-meaning but pompous leader of the elephants who is initially cold toward Dumbo. Felton also voices Mrs. Jumbo, Dumbo's mother, who speaks only once in the film to give Dumbo's name.
  • Cliff Edwards as Jim Crow, the leader of a group of crows. Though he initially teases Dumbo about his big ears and ridicules Timothy's idea that Dumbo can fly, he hears Dumbo's tragic history and becomes determined to help Dumbo fly for real.
  • Herman Bing as The Ringmaster, who though not truly evil, is a strict and occasionally arrogant man. The Ringmaster later appears as a villain in the video game Disney's Villains' Revenge.
  • Margaret Wright as Casey Junior, the sentient 2-4-0 tender locomotive hauling the circus train.
  • Sterling Holloway as Mr. Stork
  • The Hall Johnson Choir as Crow Chorus
  • The King's Men as Roustabout Chorus
  • Noreen Gammill as Elephant Catty
  • Dorothy Scott as Elephant Giddy
  • Sarah Selby as Elephant Prissy
  • Malcolm Hutton as Skinny
  • Billy Bletcher as Clown
  • John McLeish as the narrator

Production

Development

Dumbo is based upon a children's story written by Helen Aberson-Mayer and Harold Pearl,[4] with illustrations by Helen Durney.[7] The children's book 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.[8]

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 a feature-length film.[9] 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.[10] Story artists Dick Huemer and Joe Grant were assigned to develop the plot into a feature-length film. From January 22 to March 21, 1940, they wrote a 102-page script outline in chapters, much like a book, an unusual way of writing a film script. They conceived the stork-delivery and the pink elephants sequences and had Dumbo's mother renamed from "Mother Ella" to "Mrs. Jumbo". They riffed on elephants' fear of mice by replacing a wise robin named "Red" found in the original story with the wisecracking mouse character, Timothy. They also added a "rusty black crow", which was later expanded into five.[11] Regardless of this, very little was changed from the original draft.[12] In March 1940, a story team headed by Otto Englander translated the outline into story sketches.[13]

Casting

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, Aunt Sarah in Lady and the Tramp, Flora of the Three Good Fairies in Sleeping Beauty, and Winifred the Elephant in The Jungle Book. Other voice actors include the perennial Sterling Holloway in appearing as Mr. Stork, who also voiced Winnie the Pooh, Kaa in The Jungle Book, the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, and Roquefort in The Aristocats. 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.

Animation

From Disney's perspective, Dumbo required none of the special effects that had slowed down production and grew the budgets of Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi.[14] When the film went into production in early 1941, supervising director Ben Sharpsteen was given orders to keep the film simple and inexpensive.[15] As a result, the 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.[9]

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.[16]

Disney animators' strike

During a story meeting for Bambi on February 27, 1940, Disney observed that Dumbo was "an obvious straight cartoon" and that the animators that were assigned on Bambi were not appropriate for the look of Dumbo. Animators such as Art Babbitt and Ward Kimball were considered for the film.[14] For that reason, less experienced animators were brought on to animate the characters. Kimball recalled that Disney approached him in a parking lot about Dumbo and summarized the entire story in five minutes. "And listening to him tell that story," Kimball noted, "I could tell that the picture was going to work. Because everything sounded right. It had a great plot." In spite of this, Bill Tytla, who was one of the studio's top animators, animated the title character, but admitted that "[i]t was in the nature of the film to go very fast and get it out in a hurry." To speed up production, Disney used photostats of story sketches instead of full layout artwork for the film, and had experienced animators to supervise the younger, less experienced animators assigned on the film.[17]

Production on the film was interrupted on May 29, 1941 when much of the Disney animation staff went on strike. Kimball chose to not to strike, but his close friend Walt Kelly, who was an assistant animator helping him on the crow sequence, left the studios shortly after for reasons unrelated to the strike.[18]

Songs and performers

  • "Look Out for Mr. Stork" (The Sportsmen)
  • "Casey Junior" (The Sportsmen)
  • "Song of the Roustabouts" (The King's Men)
  • "Baby Mine" (Betty Noyes)
  • "The Clown Song" (A.K.A."We're gonna hit the big boss for a raise") (Billy Bletcher, Eddie Holden and Billy Sheets)
  • "Pink Elephants on Parade" (The Sportsmen) (preceded by two minutes of music on soundtrack version)
  • "When I See an Elephant Fly" (Cliff Edwards and the Hall Johnson Choir)
  • "When I See an Elephant Fly" (Reprise)

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.

Release

Dumbo was completed and delivered to Disney's distributor, RKO Radio Pictures, on September 11, 1941.[19] RKO initially balked at the film's 64-minute length and asked Disney to add another ten minutes. Disney refused, "No, that's as far as I can stretch it. You can stretch a thing so far and then it won't hold. The picture is right as it is. And another ten minutes is liable to cost five hundred thousand dollars. I can't afford it."[20]

Television broadcast

Dumbo had its television premiere on September 14, 1955, albeit severely edited, as an installment of the Disneyland television show. The film was shown unaltered on September 17, 1978, as part of a two-night salute to the program's 25th anniversary.

Home media

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, which was followed with a release on Laserdisc and CED in June 1982.[21] It was again re-released on VHS and Betamax as part of the Walt Disney Classics series on November 6, 1985.[22] The film was re-released on VHS and Laserdisc on July 12, 1991.[23] It was followed by another re-issue on VHS and Laserdisc on October 28, 1994 as a part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection.[24] On October 23, 2001, a 60th Anniversary Edition was released in VHS and DVD formats.[25][26][27]

In 2006, a "Big Top Edition" of the film was released on DVD.[28][29][30] A 70th Anniversary Edition of the film was released in the United States on September 20, 2011.[31][32][33][34] The 70th Anniversary Edition was produced in two different packages: a 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack and a 1-disc DVD.[33][35] The film was also released as a movie download.[33] 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.[33][36][37] The film was re-released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 26, 2016 to celebrate its 75th anniversary.[38]

Reception

Box office

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 $16,180,000 in 2018) to produce,[2] 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 roughly more than $1.3 million (equivalent to $27,250,000 in 2018) during its original release.[3] The film returned a profit of $850,000.[20] The film was re-released in theaters in 1949, 1959, 1972, and 1976.

Critical reception

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 in drawing and use of color."[39] Cecelia Ager, writing in PM, called Dumbo "the nicest, kindest Disney yet. It has the most taste, beauty, compassion, skill, restraint. It marks a return to Disney first principles, the animal kingdom—that happy land where Disney workers turn into artists; where their imagination, playfulness, ingenuity, daring flourish freest; where, in short, they’re home."[40] Bosley Crowther, reviewing 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".[41] Time wrote "Like story and characters, Dumbo's coloring is soft and subdued, free from picture-postcard colors and confusing detail—a significant technical advance. But the charm of Dumbo is that it again brings to life that almost human animal kingdom where Walter Elias Disney is king of them all."[42]

Additionally, Time had originally scheduled to run a story with an appearance cover for "Mammal of the Year" (a play on its annual "Man/Person of the Year" honor) on December 8, 1941. However, the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 of that year had postponed it, and the story was later published on December 29.[43][44]

Among retrospective reviews, film critic Leonard Maltin described it as "One of Walt Disney's most charming animated films".[45] In 2011, Time named the film one of "The 25 All-TIME Best Animated Films".[46] On the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 98% based on 41 reviews with an average score of 8.38/10. The website's consensus reads "Dumbo packs plenty of story into its brief runtime, along with all the warm animation and wonderful music you'd expect from a Disney classic."[47] Metacritic has assigned a weighted score of 96 out of 100 for Dumbo based on 11 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[48]

Controversy

In 1968, writer Richard Schickel, in his book The Disney Version, proposed that the crow characters in the film were African American stereotypes. The leader crow, played by Cliff Edwards, was originally named "Jim Crow" for script purposes.[49] 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,[50] other writers have rejected these claims.[51] 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."[52]

Awards and honors

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.[53] The film also won Best Animation Design at the 1947 Cannes Film Festival.[54]

Year Ceremony Award Result[55]
1941 Academy Awards Best Scoring of a Musical Picture Won
Best Original Song
(For the song "Baby Mine")
Nominated
1947 Cannes Film Festival Best Animation Design Won

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Media and merchandise

Dumbo's Circus

Dumbo's Circus is 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.

Books

  • Walt Disney's Dumbo: Happy to Help: (ISBN 0-7364-1129-1) A picture book published by Random House Disney, written by Liane Onish and illustrated by Peter Emslie. It was published January 23, 2001. This paperback is for children aged 4–8. Twenty-four pages long, its 0.08 of an inch thick, and with cover dimensions of 7.88 x 7.88 inches.
  • Walt Disney's Dumbo Book of Opposites: (ISBN 0-307-06149-3) A book published in August 1997 by Golden Books under the Golden Board Book brand. It was written by Alan Benjamin, illustrated by Peter Emslie, and edited by Heather Lowenberg. Twelve pages long and a quarter of an inch thick, this board edition book had dimensions of 7.25 x 6.00 inches.
  • Walt Disney's Dumbo the Circus Baby: (ISBN 0-307-12397-9) A book published in September 1993 by Golden Press under the A Golden Sturdy Shape Book brand. Illustrated by Peter Emslie and written by Diane Muldrow, this book is meant for babies and preschoolers. Twelve pages long and half an inch thick, this book's cover size is 9.75 x 6.25 inches.

Theme parks

Dumbo the Flying Elephant is a popular ride that appears in Disneyland,[60] Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom,[61] Tokyo Disneyland,[62] Disneyland Park (Paris), and Hong Kong Disneyland.[63]

The Casey Jr. Circus Train is an attraction found at Disneyland and Disneyland Paris.

In June 2009, Disneyland introduced a flying Dumbo to their nighttime fireworks show, in which the elephant flies around Sleeping Beauty Castle while fireworks synched to music go off.[64]

Casey Junior is the second float in the Main Street Electrical Parade and its versions. Casey, driven by Goofy, pulls a drum with the parade logo and Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse.

Video games

The Ringmaster appears as one of four villains in the 1999 PC game 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.

Dumbo appears in the popular PlayStation 2 game Kingdom Hearts released in 2002 in the form of a summon that the player can call upon in battle for aid. Sora, the protagonist, flies on Dumbo while he splashes enemies with water from his trunk.[65] Dumbo reprises his role as a summon in the follow-up game Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories released in 2004 for the Game Boy Advance.

Cancelled sequel

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.[66] Dumbo II was supposed to be set on the day immediately following the end of the first Dumbo movie.[67] John Lasseter cancelled Dumbo II,[66] soon after being named Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2006.[68]

Live-action adaptation

On July 8, 2014, Walt Disney Pictures announced that a live-action adaptation of Dumbo was in development. In the same announcement, Ehren Kruger was confirmed as the screenwriter, as well as co-producer with Justin Springer.[69] On March 10, 2015, Tim Burton was announced as the director.[70][71] 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.[72] That same day, it was revealed that Tom Hanks had reportedly been offered to play the film's villain.[73] The following month, it was announced that Smith would not be starring in the film.[74] 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,[75] however, went on to play the role of the Genie in the 2019 live-action remake of Aladdin. In March 2017, it was reported that Eva Green was in talks to play a trapeze artist.[76] Following this announcement, Danny DeVito was cast as a ringleader named Medici.[77] 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.[78] On April 4, 2017, Michael Keaton, Burton's former frequent collaborator, entered talks to star as the villain.[79] Keaton confirmed his involvement with the film on June 26, 2017.[80] Filming took place at Cardington Studios in Bedfordshire, England.[81] 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.[82] DeObia Oparei, Joseph Gatt and Alan Arkin also play new characters created for the film.[83][84][85]

See also

References

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Sources

External links