Big Top Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Edward Brophy, Sterling Holloway, Herman Bing, Cliff Edwards, Verna Felton
Director:  Ben Sharpsteen
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  64 Minutes
Release Date:  June 6, 2006

“I seen a peanut stand, I heard a rubber band,

I seen a needle that winked its eye,

But I be done seen ‘bout everything,

When I see a elephant fly!”

Film ****

Dumbo holds many special places in Walt Disney’s indelible catalog of animated films.  At only 64 minutes, it’s the shortest.  It was the least expensive animated film Disney ever made, yet it grossed more in its initial run than his previous ones Fantasia and Pinocchio combined.  It’s his only film where the title character never speaks.  And to this day, it remains one of his most beloved classics.

It’s filled with music, colorful circus fun, comedy, pathos, a winning can-do spirit and some unforgettable characters.  It’s the kind of movie that will capture a young child’s imagination, but also hang on to his heart long after he’s made the journey into adulthood.  The only experience comparable to seeing it for the first time is sharing it for the first time with your own little ones.

From the rip-roaring opening strains of “Casey Jr.”, you know you’re in for a treat.  It’s all about a circus and all that that implies, from clowns to ringmasters to, of course, animals.  And one of the animals, a matronly elephant named Mrs. Jumbo, is about to get a visit from the proverbial (or in this case, literal) stork.

But her little bundle of joy has a problem…ears that would put Clark Gable’s to shame.  The other haughty and gossipy elephants laugh at the little tyke and shun him, and even give him the shameful moniker Dumbo.  But no child is ugly in his mother’s eyes.

Sadly, his mother’s propensity to defend him against the taunters of the world lands her in chains, leaving poor Dumbo to fend for himself in a cold cruel world.  He can’t make it work in an act with the other elephants, so he’s even relegated to being a clown. 

But he finds an unlikely friend in Timothy J. Mouse, who sticks up for Dumbo and believes in him as well.  They even share an accidental drink, leading to the wonderfully bizarre “Pink Elephants on Parade” number.  And the number ends even more strangely than it began, with Timothy and Dumbo inexplicably up in a tree.

How did they get up there?  Timothy surmises, much to the delight of some heckling crows, that Dumbo’s ears are perfect wings.  He can fly!  Dumbo doesn’t believe it, but with a little psychological prodding from his small friend, the baby elephant finds it in himself to grow from an outcast to a sensation.  What a finish!

The ideas are simple ones, but that’s what makes them so endearing.  What child hasn’t known what it feels like to be different and insecure?  But it’s the things that make us different that can also make us special.  It’s not a lesson lost on children, but it never hurts grown-ups to go back and relearn it from time to time.

As mentioned, there is comedy and pathos a-plenty.  I think my favorite laugh was the bit with gorilla, roaring furiously and shaking the bars of his cage for the passersby.  He accidentally pulls one bar loose, and then very sheepishly slips it back into place.  But for real drama, who could ever forget the haunting “Baby Mine” number, sung while Mrs. Jumbo touches her baby while behind bars?  I once read that this song actually would bring Walt Disney himself to tears, and he even believed that one day it would be sung to children more often than Brahms’ Lullaby.  Yes, some nowadays say that the crows are a bit stereotypical, but how can you not love their hilarity and hijinks?

It’s fitting for the little guy that Dumbo is still flying high after more than 60 years.  Walt Disney’s greatest magic was to create artful entertainment that endured from generation to generation, and it’s possible none of his masterworks illustrates that as succinctly as Dumbo.  Enjoy.

Video ****

Is this movie really more than 60 years old?  You could never tell by the digital transfer, which is stunning and gorgeous from top to bottom.  I dare say Dumbo never looked better, even in his heyday.  Colors are rich and warm and pop off the screen.  Detail level and definition is strong throughout.  The print itself is surprisingly clean, belying its age.  A tremendous effort!

Audio ***

I enjoyed the 5.1 remix, too.  The songs sound better than ever, there’s more punch and dynamic range, and the rear speakers get into the fun a bit as well.  It sounds quite good when Dumbo takes off at the end for his history-making flight.

Features ***

The extras on this Big Top Edition release are aimed mostly at the little ones.  They’ll enjoy the DisneyPedia look at “My First Circus”, or the DVD Storybook of “Dumbo’s Big Discovery”.  They can sing along with two of their favorite tunes from the film, or watch the new music video of “Baby Mine” performed by Jim Brickman and Kassie DePaiva.  And there are even a couple of classic animated shorts to complete their delight and enjoyment.

Plus the set includes learning activities, game cards, and more!


Dumbo was the first Disney animated film to ever make it to home video, and now with this wonderful DVD release, his legend has come full circle.  This is one you’ll treasure for a great many years to come.

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