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.

Dumbo_1941_Walt_Disney

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.

Dumbo_1941_Feature

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.

Dumbo_1941_Crows

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.

Dumbo_1941_Sway

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

Fantasia (1940)

Disney made a smash hit with Snow White that gave them the funding to expand their studios and work output. While the profits of the first feature film went straight back into the business the budget of the next animated feature, Pinocchio was double that of Snow White. Sadly Pinocchio would only make back just over half of its budget. It’s clear by the sheer work that was going into these productions that Walt Disney was getting them as near to perfection as possible regardless of the money required. After Pinnochio was a financial failure at the time, it was but a blip on Disney as they had made one of the biggest films before that, and while Pinocchio was made at a loss, it was still a masterpiece. However, it was imperative for Disney to make money on the next animated feature because there were now higher stakes as the studio had moved to a bigger location and employed much more staff.

Fantasia_1940_06.jpg

Fantasia would have performed better on release if it could get into more theaters. Disney instead required the theaters to upgrade their sound systems to Stereophonic sound for Fantasia to run in them. Basically, it brought sound into modern times, and sound was only rather new in theaters back then. This sounds similar to when James Cameron basically did the same for 3D when Avatar came out and most theaters had a refurbish in at least one cinema to allow for audiences to have a slightly more immersive experience. That’s all Walt wanted, he wanted his films to be seen in the best possible way they could be. For Fantasia, it was to recreate the opera experience in an animated spectacle. Fantasia would also lose money at the time although it did play in select theaters nearly all year round. Between Fantasia and Dumbo, there would be a union strike from inside Disney that could have ended the company completely and would change Walt forever forward.

Fantasia_1940_05

To describe Fantasia, for the most part, is to describe a poem. Without knowing the context we draw our own emotions however close or far from the meaning they may be. Overall, what we get is the feeling of a mood. Fantasia has a fascinating opening. Deems Taylor, our narrator, walks forward and gives us a formal introduction to the different types of imagery we are about to watch. That could be music that follows a narrative, or just imagery that comes to the mind like a fever dream without a sense of direction. From here we are given some beautiful images of the orchestra being silhouetted against interchanging colored backgrounds. The music and imagery seamlessly transition to animation and we are carried along without question. There are eight segments that are self-contained and follow along to a piece of music. The most notable is before the midway mark is The Sorceror’s Apprentice, the one where Mickey wears the big sorcerer’s hat and animates a broom to do his chore. It’s still a splendid segment. It was originally the inspiration for Fantasia in the first place as it was created as a Silly Symphony, but came to cost way too much to be profitable in the short format. Now it’s the centerpiece of Fantasia, and the thing that I would say propelled Mickey into the icon he is today.

Fantasia_1940_04

Other than The Sorceror’s Apprentice we are treated to amazing visuals that take us to the heavens and to hell, and to the beginning of time itself. A Night on Bald Mountain is rather chilling and would have come across as terrifying on initial release as we watch this massive gargoyle take havoc over a small township. Or seeing dinosaurs brought to life for what must have been the first time on the big screen in the Rite of Spring. The parts of Fantasia that may seem abstract still keep you entertained. With a lengthy two hour duration, you may start to wiggle around in your seat just because it can be draining to move from narrative to narrative every ten minutes or so.

Fantasia_1940_03

Fantasia is a hard sell, and I might’ve rathered that we just jumped in without any introduction or understanding of what was to come. It would feel more like a piece of German expressionism then. All those films are still just as stylistic and memorable even after a hundred years. Walt Disney was putting a lot on the line so it must be assumed he didn’t want to alienate anyone what is, for the most part, an expensive experimental film. It’s hard to see how Snow White would have been a risk today, but Fantasia definitely still is, and Walt had plans for a sequel he wanted to start working on soon after. Walt may not have gotten his sequel in his lifetime but nearly sixty years later we would get Fantasia 2000

Fantasia_1940_02

Fantasia is not for all. It’s a film that might be more moving watching by yourself on a Sunday afternoon. I liked it and respect it a lot. I know I’ll get something different out of it when I watch it five years from now or twenty.

Previously Pinocchio

Next time The Reluctant Dragon

Robert Ring

Pinocchio (1940)

After the astounding success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney had the capital to make whatever they wanted, or so they thought. With a budget that almost doubled Snow White, Pinocchio didn’t make nearly as much money at the box-office as its predecessor. It didn’t even earn enough to cover the budget of the production. This was not really the fault of Disney, but things were changing in 1940 as the second world war was incoming. This was only the beginning of Disney’s financial woes as the next animated feature Fantasia later that year would make for an even bigger loss.

Original_Pinocchio

The Adventures of Pinocchio was written in 1881 by Carlo Collodi. It was originally published in parts for a children’s magazine before being sold as a book a couple of years later. Many great works of literature were published in a similar fashion like Great Expectations by Charles Dickens was first printed in chapters before being bound into a complete book. Like Snow White, the source material was much darker than the route Walt Disney went down, even with the terrifying transformation. The story was full of moral lessons that are thrust upon Pinocchio, being a naughty boy trying to fulfill good deeds so he can become a real boy. These adventures feed into Disney’s Pinocchio because you can essentially break apart the film into separate sequences.

Pinocchio_Jiminy_Fairy

Disney’s Pinocchio begins with Jiminy Cricket playing narrator to the story of Pinocchio. Jiminy recounts how he wandered into the comfortable home owned by Geppetto. Geppetto is adding the final touches to the marionette, Pinocchio. As Geppetto lays in bed he sees a star shining bright and wishes that Pinocchio was real. Shortly after the Blue Fairy arrives and makes Pinocchio come to life, she explains that he can become a real boy if he proves to be courageous and good. The Blue Fairy appoints Jiminy Cricket as the conscience to Pinocchio. Up until this point, we have stayed in one scene for the first twenty-seven minutes. That’s a third of the movie, yet it gets us to be emotionally connected to Geppetto as his journey becomes important later on. The next scene is the following morning and already we are seeing that Pinocchio is led astray by Honest John. Honest John is a con man that convinces Pinocchio to skip school and join a traveling circus. The audience loves Pinocchio so the show owner Stromboli decides to kidnap him when he tries returning home to his father, Geppetto. The Blue Fairy comes to the aid of Pinocchio, but when he finally returns home he finds that Gepetto has gone in search of him. Again, Pinocchio has been led astray while searching for Geppetto, however this time he ends up on Pleasure Island. Pleasure Island is a place that instills fear in kids because it’s a place without rules and overindulgence, so there has to be a catch. The catch comes in one of the most terrifying scenes from a Disney film as we see the children turn into donkeys. The scene is Hitchcockian in its execution. Pinocchio escapes Pleasure Island and now heads for Monstro the whale, where he has heard Geppetto was in the belly of. In a scene that outdoes anything from Snow White, we see Pinocchio rescue Geppetto from the angered and charging Monstro. The story ends with Pinocchio having overcome so many personal obstacles that the Blue Fairy makes him a real boy and he lives happily ever after with Geppetto.

Pinocchio_Monstro

There’s a lot to love in Pinocchio from the many memorable characters to the magnificent animation. In Geppetto’s house, we get to know his cat, Figaro. Personally, I think Figaro is my favorite character in the film, he’s cute and clumsy. Even Honest John is a great villain, particularly so as a fox because I just don’t think they were particularly great at drawing humans. Geppetto is the exception due to the voice actor being the inspiration for the character himself too. You may be surprised to find that on Pleasure Island Pinocchio takes to drinking and smoking. I like that Walt was able to really drum up the darkness of this place with such adult mannerisms. There is no way we would ever find this in a current Disney film, especially since there will never be any smoking seen in a Disney film again. The film as a whole has a Don Bluth feel to it, so I can only imagine he was greatly inspired by these early Disney films. Finally, the most lasting thing about the movie is the theme song When You Wish Upon a Star, which subsequently became the theme song for Disney’s company. The song is timeless and probably in the top ten film songs since the inception of film itself.

Pinocchio_Smoking

Watching Pinocchio I couldn’t help wonder about a sequel where we got to uncover more about the mystery of Pleasure Island, and I would have liked a sequel where he returned to save the other boys. And maybe that was part of the planned sequel they were toying with in the 2000s. They’ve since moved on and are developing a live-action Pinocchio. There’s no shortage of Pinocchio films as Guillermo del Toro is directing one set for 2021. There is even a Pinocchio coming out this year starring Roberto Benigni as Geppetto, which is interesting because he himself directed a live-action Pinocchio in 2002 with himself playing Pinocchio.

Disney_Pinocchio_Figaro

Overall, I like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs more as it resonates in the simplicity of the story much like The Wizard of Oz. Pinocchio is still a masterpiece that grows more timeless with age.

Previously Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Next time Fantasia

Robert Ring