Film Review: Dumbo (1941)

Also known as: Dumbo the Flying Elephant (working title)
Release Date: October 23rd, 1941 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Ben Sharpsteen (supervising director), Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Bill Roberts, Jack Kinney, Samuel Armstrong
Written by: Otto Englander, Joe Grant, Dick Huemer
Based on: Dumbo, the Flying Elephant by Helen Aberson, Harold Pearl
Music by: Frank Churchill, Oliver Wallace
Cast: Edward Brophy, Herman Bing, Margaret Wright, Sterling Holloway, Verna Felton, Cliff Edwards, James Baskett, Nick Stewart, Hall Johnson, Jim Carmichael

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 64 Minutes

Review:

“[singing] I seen a peanut stand /And heard a rubber band /I’ve seen a needle that winked its eye / But I been done seen about everything / When I see an elephant fly.” – Jim Crow

Coming off of the masterpiece that was Fantasia, Disney had its work cut out for them but this was still a great animated feature film. I’d say that it falls somewhere between Pinocchio and Snow White, which just proves how consistently good Walt Disney Animation Studios were from the get go.

Dumbo is a really short film at just 64 minutes but it tells its story well and also still has time to get in some of the most iconic musical sequences in Disney’s long history.

The tone of the film is very similar to Pinocchio and it also shares some narrative similarities, as it follows a young, newborn character, as he tries to overcome adversity, learn from his experiences and grow into someone better. Like Pinocchio, it’s a film about personal growth but it does it in a fresh way that doesn’t simply retread what Pinocchio already did.

Additionally, where Pinocchio was an improvement in animation over Snow White, this film improves upon its predecessors. The animation is even more fluid here and Disney got really experimental in some sequences. The use of animated shadows is superb for the time and then in the “Elephants On Parade” musical sequence, Disney experimented with animating vibrant colors over a black background. They had to tweak and rework how they produced that sequence and ultimately, their innovation won out, creating one of the coolest moments from any Disney picture.

Dumbo isn’t close to being my favorite motion picture in the larger Walt Disney oeuvre but it’s simple, straight to the point and displays the greatness of the cinematic craftsman behind its production.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other early animated feature films.

Film Review: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Release Date: June 22nd, 1988
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman
Based on: Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Charles Fleischer, Stubby Kaye, Joanna Cassidy, Kathleen Turner, Mel Blanc, Joel Silver

Touchstone Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, Buena Vista Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Is he always this funny, or only on days when he’s wanted for murder?” – Dolores

Back in 1988, I saw this movie in the theater. It was a pretty memorable experience, as this was an incredibly unique and enjoyable motion picture. I used to watch this a lot as a kid but I hadn’t seen it in a long time. Watching it again, I realized how much I missed this film. I mean, what’s not to like?

The film uses animated characters in a live action world. When I was young, this was a really cool experience, as I hadn’t seen anything like it before, at least not an entire movie like this. After Roger Rabbit, this would become a technique that was fairly common but this was the first movie to do it on such a large scale.

The really cool thing about the use of animated characters, is that everyone was in on the movie. For the first time, we got to see Disney characters mingle with Warner Bros. characters. One scene, in particular, has both Bugsy Bunny and Mickey Mouse on screen together. The film really is a cool crossover before crossovers even really became a thing.

Roger Rabbit stars Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd, as the main human components of the movie. The film provided iconic roles for both men and they hit it out of the park. Hoskins was tailor made to play a noir type private dick while Lloyd had the perfect balance of being sinister, chilling and completely insane when the reveal of his true identity came out.

Charles Fleischer was perfect as the voice of Roger and he instantly made this character a megastar and worthy of a place alongside the great animated stars of the Disney and Looney Tunes characters he shares the screen with. Roger truly felt like he belonged, which wasn’t an easy feat but Fleischer gave the character real life and comedic charm.

Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman wrote a great script that had elements of film-noir, comedy, fantasy and lightheartedness mixed in with some really dark material. The scene where a character gets steamrollered was pretty harsh stuff for a kid but it is counterbalanced by the fantastic absurdity of how that moment plays out. This is truly a living cartoon.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a real classic. It still hits the right notes and being a period piece makes it a pretty timeless motion picture that still works just as well today, as it did in 1988.

Rating: 8.75/10