Following on from the template set by Snow White, Disney offers us a couple of viewing options for this 1.33:1 AVC image - the square-box format, or the picture beautifully pillared by thematic artwork that marries up, aesthetically, to the scene at hand. As with Snow White, I can't help but fall for this distinctive and evocative treat, entitled Disney View and presented with an introduction by James Coleman.
Others have stated that the restored and hi-deffed image for Dumbo is not as revelatory as we have seen for the earlier classics that have been released on the format so far, but while this may be true the fact still remains that the Boeing-eared elephant has never, ever looked as good as this since his big screen theatrical debut. Immediately, you will entranced by those old-school colours splashed big and loud across the screen, Disney's utter magnificence for rainbow-capture something that, by now, you just know will be nigh-on perfect. In fact, so beautiful and well-saturated are the colours - just look at the moment Dumbo's face turns crimson after slugging from the beer barrel - and without any trace of smearing or banding (which you wouldn't have expected anyway), that I'm not going to waste any more time discussing them. In a word - gorgeous.
Such animation as this is not exactly given to intricate detail. Disney's artists were deliberately constructing a vibrant and “organic” style of image and the resulting picture positively pulses with life and a comical energy that is broad in shape and thick with colour. Edges are smooth and not horribly sharpened. There is no aliasing to be seen. Contrast is tip-top and produces some great blacks. The sort of deep-focus effect that graced Snow White is not called for here, but a beautiful bonus with this transfer is the added three-dimensionality that the higher definition bolsters the picture with. Things such as the circus procession coming through town, the ringmaster proudly out in front on his horse, the crows cavorting through the sky, the vertigo-inducing view down from the top of the burning building and just about any of the action beneath the Big Top become vastly more pronounced and depth-promoted with the hi-def transfer.
As far as I am concerned, it is hard to imagine Dumbo looking any better than this. Beautiful, bright and organic, the film now throbs with energy and guarantees a thorough pampering for the eyes after a hard day's work.
As you would expect for a film of this vintage, there isn't a great deal that the original audio track would be able to achieve, even with a lossless makeover, yet, once again, Disney have come up trumps. Now, okay, having a 7.1 DTS HD MA track is pushing the potential some, but the great thing about this revamp is that it does sound immersive and genuinely seems to put you in the epicentre of a fair degree of surround activity. Having just reviewed The Relic just before this, and listened to the 7.1 mix that Lionsgate afforded it, I would have to say that Dumbo possibly makes a more convincing stab at utilising the extended soundfield. Well, possibly. It is just that this sounds a little bit more relaxed and free-flowing. Admittedly, the score sounds somewhat restricted and centrally-based, but the effects that are blown out around the set-up are actually quite pleasing without being overcooked or embellished.
The chugging of Casey Jones Jnr and the swooping sound of aeroplanes (revealed, in fact, to be the Stork) at the start whistle around the channels. Then there is the wind that wails around the rears during the storm. The clashing of hammers on the big tent pins as they clatter across the front carry a note of metallic precision. If the dialogue sounds contained and not as vibrant as later entries, then this is perfectly understandable. But there isn't a word that is sunken beneath, or swallowed-up by the mix. With Disney's engineers working on the audio restoration and remixing, you know you are in safe hands. Any boost is lovingly rendered and nothing is flung across the channels that doesn't need to be. Although pans around the set-up and sweeps from front-to-back and vice-versa aren't in much demand, there is a genuine sense of a old movie being delightfully and lovingly resurrected right around your ears that won't blow bombast-fans away but is sure to please aficionados.
There is a Disney Enhanced DD 5.1 track alternative, but I would stick with the DTS lossless. A rich and quite energetic track that may not hold a candle to many other audio experiences out there on Blu-ray but still brings a little animated feature from 1941 to the sort of life it could only have dreamt of beforehand.
At first I was a bit surprised at the apparent lack of extras for this release, especially considering how in-depth and comprehensive other Disney titles have been, but when you think back to how slight and relatively primitive this feature-film actually is, then it becomes only fitting that it garners less overall treatment. I mean there's really only so much that can justifiably be said about a production that, if we are honest, does not have any subtle motifs, hidden agendas, controversial elements (and we can't count those crows) or adult themes running behind the scenes.
What this two-disc edition (a standard DVD sitting alongside the BD) does offer, however, is a perfectly rounded set of features that encompass the studio's methodology and desperation at the time of the film's genesis, as well as a terrific chronicle of the film's massive success and longevity within the now esteemed Disney cannon.
Despite the shorts and the lost gems of a deleted scene and song, the best thing here is, simply, Taking Flight: The Making of Dumbo, which may only run for 25 mins but delivers a great treatise on just how why those big old ears and cute little smile brought victory to the studio. Various historians and Disney acolytes have their say and the whole make-or-break endeavour is given the respect and the benchmark clout that the film deserves. Plenty of vintage stills and anecdote keep up the momentum with one foot firmly placed in cultural accuracy and the other sifting through the sands of nostalgia with nothing less than addictive affection.
Disney offer up a Cine-Explore option that my now-antiquated Region B machine cannot handle - curse this region-coding - so I can't tell you how this shapes up, but there are a couple of bonus shorts that are sort of linked to the main feature, in “The Flying Mouse” and “Elmer Elephant”, as well as a deleted scene that reveals Timothy Mouse's story about why elephants are afraid of mice and an excised song entitled “Are You A Man Or A Mouse?” to savour. Both of these are voiced over archival artwork found in the Disney vaults. The song is a pep-talk from Timothy to Dumbo after a night's humiliating work with the clowns, whilst the deleted scene is a somewhat dark and distracting tale of huge prehistoric mice abusing the mammoths of the era that, in all honesty, was dropped for all the right reasons.
The Magic Of Dumbo: A Ride Of Passage is nothing more than a fawning look at the Disney ride, whilst the extensive Art Galleries take in everything from conceptualisation to posters and publicity material, but kudos must go to the inclusion of the original Dumbo storybook.
The Sound Design Excerpt from “The Reluctant Dragon” is a fun piece that has a hapless Hollywood comedian blunder into the sound effects department for the Disney crew who are creating the audio track for the Casey Jnr section of the film. Cute and corny, but still a great deal of fun.
Celebrating Dumbo is exactly what it sounds like - a bunch of renowned animators and film critics reminiscing over why the film means so much, with some particular attention paid to the Pink Elephants sequence and, naturally, the loving tenderness and emotion of the relationship between Dumbo and his mother. There is nothing new to be learned here, but the featurette is certainly a nice little overview of the impact that the film had, and still retains.
The usual slew of Disney previews complete the this package of the familiar and the new.
One of the all-time greats, Dumbo belies its slim running time and remarkable simplicity with the kind of exuberance and perennial charm that only the coldest of hearts could refuse to warm to. It is not my favourite Disney movie - far from it, in fact - but it is one that positively radiates good feelings and is just an unalloyed joy to kick back with. Fantasia may have that glorious hypnotic effect, Snow White that wonderfully evocative folk warning and borderline horror story, but Dumbo has innocence, wit and sincerity firmly embedded right at its core, and it is a winning mix that has stood the test of time and justifiably become the hallmark of the studio.
Disney's Blu-ray is typically terrific. This UK edition has plenty of informative fun scooped in with the brilliantly restored hi-def transfer and, considering the charm of the movie itself, the unashamed affection that the many participants express for it never once comes across as cloying or condescending. Dumbo remains a treasure - just one that gleams and sparkles that bit more on BD.
You know this deserves a place on your shelf.
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