Saturday, April 5, 2014


Madame Rose, my publicist, and Joseph, my manager, arrived by chartered water taxi in Roadtown, Tortola, in order to perform an 'intervention' with me following my recent negative experiences with Special K. I had been duped into recurrent drug use by evil forces and was in need of recovery and resistance against further temptation. They told me I was in great danger of permanently harming my health and alienating all of my loyal fans who hold me up as a shining beacon of wholesome, family entertainment. I had a most convincing breakdown on the beach and Joseph went off to make the arrangements for my admission to the Charlie Sheen suite at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage.

Madame Rose and I then had a delightful time on the beach with a couple of large Mango Margaritas deciding how we could best inform the press of my need for substance rehabilitation services. It's such a career boost nowadays - just look what it's done for Matthew Perry and Ben Affleck. We then went shopping for some stunning little resort frocks to wear on the plane. I settled for a shimmering body scarf in aqua with a nice red hibiscus pattern. Then it was off to the plane and a lengthy rest cure so I can deal with various neuro-chemical demons.

While on the plane, I had some mild detox problems which caused me to see the occasional pink elephant wandering the aisles. This put me in mind of Walt Disney's charming early cartoon feature, Dumbo from 1941 which I had recently seen in its new DVD release. Dumbo is a short (just an hour and a quarter) fable which takes place at the circus and was an enormous hit with audiences gearing up for the long nightmare of World War II. It also helped rescue the Disney studio from insolvency following the failure of their 1940 release, Fantasia.

Dumbo tells the story of a baby elephant, born to a circus elephant mother who names him Jumbo. Dumbo, however, has been born with oversize ears earning the derision of the other elephants who promptly ostracize him and give him his nickname. When he is harassed by unruly spectators, his mother rampages in an attempt to protect him and is locked up for her pains. Dumbo is forced to the lowest level of ignominy for a circus elephant by becoming a clown. Dumbo, however, with the aid of his only friend, the mouse Timothy, and some clever crows, discovers that his ears, while a detriment to his appearance, make mighty good wings and eventually finds fame and fortune.

As an animated feature, Dumbo reveals the developing Disney style. The characters are quickly, but effectively sketched. There is a distinctive visual look, primarily from the bold circus colors used throughout. The use of music and song to capture mood and character is strong. This is a film in which little of the story is carried through dialog. The titular hero, Dumbo, never speaks. It's unclear if he's incapable or if he simply has nothing to say. He doesn't need to. He's so beautifully animated, especially in the eyes, that even the most unsophisticated viewer will understand him. His mother, Mrs. Jumbo, also has few words. Her emotions, one of the best examples of mother/child interactions ever filmed, are expressed best through song (Baby Mine is a classic) and movement. It's only the supporting characters that really need to speak. The film is also surprisingly adult, with a lot of pithy things to say about family, friendship, and rejection under the breezy surface.

There are two sequences late in the film of particular note, one is the dream sequence Pink Elephants on Parade which represents a dream had by the accidentally drunken Dumbo. It's like little else in the Disney canon with its surreal imagery in which the animators follow a free-flowing stream of consciousness. The second is the sequence in which the crows meet up with Dumbo and Timothy and do the grandly comic When I See an Elephant Fly. The movements and voices of the crows are based on African-American song and dance teams of the thirties and some people have viewed them as racist. I would disagree with this assessment. The crows may be comic but they are strong, good-hearted characters who take Dumbo under their wing, literally, and provide him with the mentoring he needs. The style of song and dance they use was enjoyed by both white and black audiences of the period and is not an attempt by white artists to demean black culture.

The DVD has a lovely clear color and sound transfer in the original proportions (non-wide screen). I think the sound effects have probably been tinkered with to take advantage of new recording technology. There is a commentary by animation historian John Canemaker which discusses many of the sequences and animators in great detail. There are a number of extras including a music video of Michael Crawford singing Baby Mine (unnecessary), the 1941 and 1949 trailers for the film, features on sound and visual design (including storyboards), Walt Disney's television introduction for the film, and a bunch of talking heads like Leonard Maltin delivering studio propaganda.

Lost stork. 'Little Engine that Could' references. Elephant pyramid. Drunken mouse. Idiotic clowns. Magic feather. Private train car.

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