Dumbo (1941)

Dumbo is one of the most beloved Disney animations. It was also the movie to help Disney out of its run of financial losses. This is somewhat surprising due to the team working on the film were the B-team, as the A-team was working on Bambi. Dumbo was a more economical film to make after the excessive budgets that weren’t profitable in Pinocchio and Fantasia. It helped that Dumbo was only sixty-four minutes long. Audiences loved Dumbo for its simple storytelling and emotional attachment. Considering it was a financial success without much international distribution says something to the impact it had at the time.

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Dumbo starts with a moving scene showing cranes delivering babies to all the animals, all except Mrs Jumbo. Sadly, Mrs Jumbo gets on the train the next day along with the entire circus to move onto the next location. By luck, the crane that was carrying Mrs Jumbo’s baby spots the train and unites the two. Once the bundle is unwrapped revealing the young elephant the cute ques turn quickly to dismay from the crowd of elephants once they see his ears are huge. The name Dumbo is given by those elephants quickly to the tears of Mrs Jumbo, who loves her baby wholeheartedly. The teasing soon proves to be too much for Mrs Jumbo as they open the circus at the next town and Dumbo is teased relentlessly by the visitors. Mrs Jumbo in a fit of rage tears the place down and earns herself exile from the show and away from Dumbo. Like Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio before, Timothy Mouse makes it his mission to help Dumbo through these hard times and tries to excel him. After a bad start, Dumbo ends up as the star in a clown act that mocks him further. In one of the most memorable scenes, Timothy Mouse and Dumbo try picking themselves up, however, the pick-me-up seems rather literal as they become intoxicated and see “Pink Elephants”. The morning after they find themselves at the height of a tall tree that they realise Dumbo flew up. And here our story ends with Dumbo’s ears being the most incredible trait as he can soar through the air, and finds himself in stardom and reunited with Mrs Jumbo.

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After what has come before, Dumbo is cheaply made. The story may be rich with merit, however, the animation is largely simple and undetailed. There are massive blocks of scenes that are as if they could have been coloured in by the way of a colouring-in book. For example, a scene where all the elephants are gossiping is filled with just flat grey bodies, with only minute detail on the trunk and face, leaving no detail of depth to the body. Dumbo by today’s standards would be a straight to video release, much like the Disney animated sequels that were plentiful in the 90s and 2000s.

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The story to this day has continued to resonate with audiences and just this year a live-action film was released. However, time has not been completely kind to the film as more and more critics find controversy in the crow sequence near the end (atop the tree with Dumbo), for portraying African American stereotypes. It’s easy to see why Disney is the target of this sort of thing when they are by all purposes a family-friendly company. I have no qualms with it as it is timely to that era. With the release of Song of the South only a few years later, critics have reason to criticise the scene. The scene was going to be cut or reconfigured to edit out the crows with the release of Disney Plus, and thank goodness they had the sense to not go through with it.

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Dumbo is a really short story that goes by in a breeze, but I think more could have been added to the film, so I’m curious what they added in the live-action film to almost double the screen time. Whatever the case Dumbo is a good wholesome film.

What do you think of it overall?

Previously The Reluctant Dragon

Next Bambi

Robert Ring

Cinema: South Korea

South Korea is not without a colorful film history, one that has survived countless hands from oppression by the Japanese, who sought to make propaganda through film, and to the censoring of content by the Korean government in later years.

seoul_cinema_billboards_1950sSouth Korea is relatively a newcomer to cinema, as political turmoil from the occupation of Japan prohibited filmmakers from making nationalist Korean films, and instead films that were a rally of propaganda for Japan. During this occupation, Korean-language films were outright banned from being developed. The Japenese occupation was to the point where Korean values were forced into Japanese values, even to the changing of family names in Japanese ones. These sentiments do not erase South Korea’s earliest films, however, most of these films were destroyed by the Japanese. This period of oppression ended with the end of the second world war in 1945.

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It could be argued that South Korea did not really have a film heritage until the 1960s, when film auteurs really started appearing, and these filmmakers were not conservative. They liked to push their own creative and political edge into their films to thwart the censorship that had oppressed the nation. Titles like A Flower in Hell (1958) by Shin Sang-ok showed an on-screen kiss, which was taboo. Even in My Sassy Girl (2001), a romantic comedy that ran for two and a half hours wouldn’t show a kiss. While South Korea’s cinema was starting to boom, North Korea, in a famous case kidnapped Shin Sang-ok and his wife in a means to boost their own industry. North Korea’s films resulted in propaganda films, while South Korea suffered a significant loss by missing one of their prolific film auteurs.

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South Korea is one of the few nations which has successfully upheld a national film industry, one that can compete with Hollywood, and the surrounding Japan and China within the South Korean box-office. In places like Australia, there are very few successful films, and these successes are such by making back the budget and then profiting a little more.  The Australian film industry cannot compete with Hollywood films, when “the good,” Australian films are made for a select audience, and “the bad,” try to appeal to everyone. South Korea has had it very different. Firstly South Korea was censored by the Japanese occupation, and then by a new military regime with the thought that media can be used as a weapon of influence unless strictly censored. So when Ghost (1989), the first foreign film was being distributed in South Korea, the filmmakers strongly went against what they thought was going to be another form of oppression. These protestors did everything they could to trouble the release of the film by splashing paint on the cinema screens showing the film to releasing live snakes. This push was somewhat successful and probably the key to keeping their national film success in the form of a quota system. This quota system until 2006 required 146 days of screenings a year devoted to local South Korean films. In 2006 the quota would be reduced to 72 days as it was clear that international markets would not destroy their industry that was stronger than ever by the New Wave.

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The New Wave of South Korean films began around the mid 1990s, in fact it included music, television, and games too. This era was the start of high quality and stylistic films such as My Sassy Girl (2001), Oldboy (2003), and The Host (2006). There are certainly many more, but these are some I particularly like. The New Wave focused on being stylistic and understanding/creating diverse pop culture as South Korea was also modernising. This wave has redefined the future of the South Korean film industry, and the box office has shown twenty-seven of the top fifty grossing films there were made between 2009 and 2014. From a western approach, just look at Oldboy. It came into the appeal of international audiences with favorable reviews as Roger Ebert (2005) wrote on the value of the film, “We are so accustomed to “thrillers” that exist only as machines for creating diversion that it’s a shock to find a movie in which the action, however violent, makes a statement and has a purpose”. Ebert’s statement highlights the significance of everything working for the story’s sake, and not just for the benefit of an audience draw. This puts Hollywood films into a certain perspective where they fall into troupes as a device, whereas South Korea’s long-standing history of censorship has allowed filmmakers to be more respectful of the boundaries they are stepping over and approach violent material for a reason. The same can be said about My Sassy Girl, where some traditions are still upheld by filmmakers when it comes to the lack of an on-screen kiss, which did not trouble the film in any shape, but instead was used to create a quirky romantic comedy that feels fresh because of it. The new wave showed us that South Korea is a flourishing film industry that is unique and is a positive influence of cinema across the world.

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The history of South Korean cinema has been filled with disregard by controlling forces in the early years, taking away artistic integrity in place of pro-Japanese values, and only positivity was allowed in later years before creative freedom was permitted in films by the mid 80s. The New Wave of filmmakers such as Jae-young Kwak, Chan-wook Park, and Joon-ho Bong, are just a few iconic film directors that transitioned South Korea from a certain dictatorship, and into a place that can make creative works distinctive of South Korea. Today South Korea is thriving and expanding more than ever before with box office films at the highest they’ve ever been, and deals that are putting the country into working relationships internationally, while also being amongst them in the competitive marketplace.

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The best film of the year, in my opinion, is the South Korean film Parasite, so be sure to check it out and explore the vast library of films from South Korea.

Robert Ring

The Hunt for Censorship

Remember when the release of The Interview in 2014 had the world worried about North Korea going to war with the United States? Looking back it’s a bit humorous, but it was a moment. Theatre chains across the United States refused to show the film in fear of retaliation. Sony ended up delaying the film and re-edited it for a digital release and a small limited theater run on the same day. Even though it was just another comedy from Seth Rogen, it’s unfortunate when any creative material needs to be censored. Now, The Interview was a film that still came out and for the most part, it was handled as well as it could considering the pressures at the time. We should congratulate Sony for that at the very least because what Universal has just done is a joke.

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In the last couple of weeks, people have begun rallying for greater gun control in the United States. Mass shootings are frequently happening and two have just gone down within twenty-four hours. The outcry is significant, but nothing is happening. The President is moving the conversation away from gun ownership and targeting video games and movies. This is a tired argument that needs to stop being used as the scapegoat. The President tweeted about Universal’s upcoming picture The Hunt indirectly as a movie that “is made in order to inflame and cause chaos”. Shortly afterward Universal decided to pull their film from next month’s release schedule. It is unclear when and how they may go about releasing it in the future.

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The Hunt looks like a good movie from the trailer, nothing spectacular. The context we are given from the trailer also appears to be no different from many other films where the elite echelon of people are using real people as fodder. The idea is similar to The Hunger Games, or even The Cabin in the Woods, Gamer, and so forth. The Hunt is closer to a satire on the world today, but I fail to see how it should be made an example of because of the recent shootings. Hollywood is one of the most vocal groups lobbying against guns, so it seems bizarre that they would have to bow down in this fashion. It’s possible that the studio has a box office failure on their hands and know it. Therefore, they may be able to claim the insurance on it and just release it on a streaming service in the future. The thing is people haven’t seen it yet, although that doesn’t stop it from having critics sight unseen. People need to stop pointing blame where it doesn’t belong and censorship needs to be stopped, especially in this case.

Anyway, here’s the trailer of the movie we maybe will see someday…

Or not.

Robert Ring