Dumbo

From Academic Kids

For the Brooklyn, New York City, neighborhood, see DUMBO.

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Nm_toronto_eatons_centre_disney_store_dumbo.jpg
Dumbo statue at a Toronto Disney Store

Dumbo is an animated feature, produced by Walt Disney and first released on October 23, 1941 by RKO Radio Pictures. The main character is Jumbo Jr., an anthropomorphic elephant who is cruelly nicknamed Dumbo. He is ridiculed for his big ears, but it turns out that he is capable of flying by using them as wings. His only friend is the mouse Timothy, parodying the stereotypical animosity between mice and elephants. Dumbo was a deliberate exercise in simplicity and economy for the Disney studio, and is today considered one of its finest films. At a running time of just under 64 minutes, it is the shortest of the Disney animated features.

Contents

Story

The film takes place in a circus setting, ostensibly in present-day 1941, and begins with a formation of storks delivering newborn offspring to the various circus animals. Mrs. Jumbo's baby is delivered to her belatedly by a mixed-up stork, but the baby is well received by the other elephants until the size of his ears are revealed. The elephant, named Jumbo Jr. by his mother, is immediately re-christened "Dumbo" by the gossipy female elephants, who regard both mother and son as outcasts. The two get along fine without them, however, until Mrs. Jumbo is imprisoned as a 'mad elephant" after trying to defend her son from a crowd of teasing spectators. A mouse named Timothy becomes Dumbo's friend and mentor, and crafts a plan to make the sorrowful little elephant a star.

Timothy subliminally convinces the circus ringmaster to set up a "pyramid of pacyderms", to the top of which Dumbo will jump (using a springboard). The act goes horribly wrong, the big top falls to the ground, the other elephants are seriously injured, and Dumbo is unceremoniously demoted to being a clown. Dumbo's clown act involves him falling from a platform in a dramatized fire rescue into a vat of pie filling. The audience reacts well to the act, and the clowns decide to alter the act for the next show so that Dumbo falls from an platform many times higher than the original one.

After an emotional visit to his mother's cell, Dumbo and Timothy try to plot their next step. They settle down for a drink of water outside of the clowns' tent. Unbeknownst to them, the water has been spiked with moonshine, and the elephant and mouse become inebriated and hallucinatory, seeing pink elephants sing and dance before their eyes.

Dumbo and Timothy awake the next morning--in a tree over 100 feet (30 m) up, awoken by a gaggle of amused black crows. Timothy surmises that Dumbo flew the both of them to the top of the tree while they were drunk, an idea the crows find hilarious. Nevertheless, the crows decide to help Timothy teach Dumbo to fly. By convincing the elephant he can fly with the use of a "magic feather", they succeed in getting Dumbo to fly.

Dumbo shows up at the next clown "fire rescue" performance with his magic feather; however, he loses the feather after leaping from the platform. Timothy admits that Dumbo can fly without the magic feather, and, barely avoiding death from the fall, Dumbo opens his ears and soars through the air, to the amazement of the audience. Dumbo the Flying Elephant is made the star of the circus and an international celebrity, and he and his mother are reunited and given their own private coach on the circus train.

Production of Dumbo

The film was designed as a economical feature, to help generate income for the Disney studio after the financial failures of both Pinocchio and Fantasia in 1940. Storymen Dick Huemer and Joe Grant were the primary figures in developing the plot, based upon a manuscript written by Helen Aberson and Harold Perl for a children's book.

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. However, the simplicity freed the animators from being overly concerned with detail, and allowed them to focus on the most important element of character animation: acting. Bill Tytla's animation of Dumbo is today considered one of the greatest accomplishments in American traditional animation.

On May 29 1941, during the production on Dumbo, the majority of the Disney studio staff went on strike. The strike lasted five weeks, and ended the "family" atmosphere and camaraderie at the studio. A number of the strikers are caricatured into this film as the clowns who want to put Dumbo at risk for their own gain and go to "hit the big boss up for a raise".

None of the voice actors for Dumbo received screen credit, but Timothy Mouse, who befriended even Dumbo in his darkest days and was instrumental in helping him find greatness within himself, was voiced by Edward Brophy, a character actor known for portraying gangsters who has no other known animation voice credits. Mrs. Jumbo (Dumbo's mother, whose love for him never wavered, although she was judged a mad elephant and imprisoned for it), was Verna Felton, who also played the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella and one of the good fairies in Sleeping Beauty. Other voice actors include the perennial Sterling Holloway in a cameo role as Mr. Stork, and Cliff Edwards, better known as the voice of Jiminy Cricket, as Jim Crow, the ringleader of the crows.

To save costs, watercolor paint was used to render the backgrounds. Dumbo and Snow White are the only two classic Disney features to use the technique, which was regularly employed for the various Disney cartoon shorts. The other Disney features used oil paint and gouache. 2002's Lilo & Stitch, a simple, emotional story with influences from Dumbo, also made use of watercolor backgrounds.

Release and reaction

Dumbo was completed and delivered to Disney's distributor, RKO Radio Pictures, in fall 1941. RKO balked at the fact that the film only ran 64 minutes, and demanded that Walt Disney either (a) expand it to 70 minutes or more, (b) edit it to short subject legnth, or (c) allow RKO to release it as a b-movie. Disney refused all three options, and RKO reluctantly issued Dumbo, unaltered, as an a-film.

After its October 23 release, Dumbo proved to be a financial success. The simple film only cost 813,000 USD to produce, half the cost of Snow White and less than a third of the cost of Pinocchio. Dumbo eventually grossed 1.3 million USD during its original release; it and Snow White were the only two pre-1943 Disney features to turn a profit (Barrier, 318). The United States entered World War II in December 1941, reducing the box office draw of the film, which was nevertheless the most financially successful Disney film of the 1940s, thanks to a 1949 rerelease.

Dumbo won the 1941 Academy Award for Original Music Score, awarded to musical directors Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace. Churchill and lyricist Ned Washington were nominated for the 1941 Academy Award for Best Song for "Baby Mine", the song that plays during Dumbo's visit to his mother's cell. The film also won Best Animation Design at the 1947 Cannes Film Festival.

The film's simplicity and charm have made it the favorite Disney film of many people, including film and animation historian Leonard Maltin. Of particular note is the "Pink Elephants on Parade" sequence, which depicts Dumbo and Timothy's drunken hallucinations. The sequence was the first venture into surrealism for a narrative Disney film, taking its cue from the experimental Fantasia. The sequence essentially breaks all of the "rules" that the Disney animators had lived by for creating realistic animation over the previous decade: pink, polka-dot, and plaid elephants dance, sing, and morph into an number of various objects. The design of the sequence is highly stylized, and many of the artists who worked on it were the younger artists at the studio who joined the picket line in May 1941 and eventually would become the nucleus of United Productions of America, the most influential animation studio of the 1950s.

The crow characters in the film are in fact African-American caricatures; the leader crow voiced by Caucasian Cliff Edwards is officially named "Jim Crow". The other crows are voiced by African-American actors, all members of the Hall Johnson Choir. Though Dumbo is often critizied for the inclusion of the black crows, it is notable that they are the only truly sympathetic characters in the film outside of Dumbo, his mother and Timothy. They apologize for picking on the elephant, and they are in fact the ones that help Timothy teach Dumbo to fly. The roustabout scene which features African American laborers largely in shadow and singing a working song that many find offensive has drawn similar complaints.

The film received another distinction of note in 1980, when it was the first of Disney's canon of animated films to be released on home video.

Dumbo also made a cameo appearance in the 2002 video game Kingdom Hearts as a summonable character to assist in battle.

Dumbo's Circus

Dumbo's Circus was a live action puppet television show that aired on the Disney Channel in the 1980s, which used the Dumbo character and, a few new ones for a preschool-oriented program. Each character would preform a special act, which ranged from dancing and singing to telling knock knock jokes.

See also

References

  • Barrier, Michael (1999). Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-503759-6.
  • Maltin, Leonard (180, updated 1987). Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-452-25993-2.

External links

nl:Dumbo zh:小飞象

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