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9th Sep 2013, 12:22 PM Inspirations: Dumbo

So I’ve been trying to think who would be good to write about for my next inspirations post. Then I realized I’ve never dedicated an entire post to a single movie. So I thought now would be a good time to tell you about one of my favorite films (not just animated films but films in general).

I must put a disclaimer here and say that this isn’t intended as a critical analysis of the film. But rather how it has come to shape my personal philosophies about art, filmmaking, etc. So that being said, I’m not going to go into if this movie is racist or anything like that. I really wouldn’t know how to talk about that since I’m not smart enough (something that certain other people should realize as well, but I digress).

I’m not sure if I can say this is my favorite Disney film of all time. But it is definitely my favorite of the pre-WWII Disney films. It’s light-hearted, but has some intense imagery especially for a family film. The sequence where the big top comes down always frightened me as a child. But it’s the kind of frightening that is important to the story. If it wasn’t there, I don’t think it would be as effective as a whole. You need the darkness in order to appreciate the light.

Another thing about this film is that it’s appealing, but without being too saccharine. In fact, the only element that I would call cute is the main character himself (and the mouse but he’s cute in a slightly different way). But it’s never too syrupy for me because it’s accurate to what a child of that age would do. It isn’t forced or contrived like a Shirley Temple movie.

An especially big influence this film had on me is the idea of creating a world that seems like a place you’d want to live in. This is probably true of every movie that I like, even the ones where the story isn’t that great. I think this why a lot of people prefer the classic Disney films to the ones of the 60’s and 70’s. Although I do enjoy these films for the character animation, I’ll admit they don’t look as good.  

This is probably the cartoonist of all the Disney films. Even something that you’d expect to be cartoony like Alice in Wonderland seems restrained by comparison. This is probably another feature of the films lower budget. When planning the movie, they substituted big atmospheric special effects (even the rain at the beginning is reused from Bambi) for broad comedic action. It makes sense, it doesn’t require as good drawing or timing making it easier and therefore cheaper. These moments also help to contrast the few but effective subtle scenes in this movie. That might even be what sums up this movie, the amazing way that it balances all its elements together to form a cohesive whole. It’s not that it’s a particularly groundbreaking story or idea, but the way they chose to tell it is very original.    

I love the style of this movie. It’s just realistic enough to take it seriously, but just exaggerated enough to accept all the impossible things that happen. The world they’ve created is pretty strange when you think about it and yet there’s not a single point where I ever question it. I think one reason is that from the very first sequence (storks delivering baby animals) they let you know that this is not real life. That’s why, when a mouse shows up who’s wearing a bandleader’s uniform (because…?) it’s completely acceptable.

And once the film has gotten you to accept one bizarre element, it throws you another, and another. It’s so intelligent in how every new turn in the story is just a little bit stranger, so you don’t really notice that it’s happening. This is all to get you to the point where you accept that an elephant really could fly; not in our world, but in this one.

When talking about the animation, I think it’s important to keep in mind that this film had probably the lowest budget of all the feature films produced up to that point. It was only made because things were taking too long on Bambi and the studio needed another film out. So they were instructed to do it for as little as possible. This film did have great animators (at least, the leads, I’m not sure about the assistants since they’re not credited). But even under the circumstances they still produced some pretty impressive work. Though less polished at times, it’s still Disney animation.

But even with these technical shortcomings, the performances in this movie I don’t think have ever been topped. I’ve thought of taking the movie sequence by sequence, but I don’t really have time for that. Likewise, I couldn’t tell you what my favorite one is because there are so many that stand out it would be basically the entire movie.

Have I talked about the music yet? No? Ok well I also adore the music in this movie. I guess it counts as a musical even though I only counted six songs, not including instrumentation. Just the score for the opening credits makes you feel like you’ve come to an event, not just a movie. This movie’s soundtrack kind of reminds me of Sgt. Pepper’s. It’s modern, classic, funny, whimsical, surreal, and touching all at the same time.

The message, although kind of standard for animated films nowadays, is still a good message. I wouldn’t say this movie is exactly about loving yourself as much as it about accepting others. I said I wasn’t going to talk about this but I find it ironic that a film that gets slammed for being racist could have such an obvious anti-prejudice message. But anyway, the speech that Timothy Mouse makes is one of my favorite pieces of writing as well as animation. In a film where so many strange things happen, it’s nice to see something so dramatic and arguably adult.

I guess I should probably wrap this up now. At over a thousand words, this is probably my longest inspirations post so far. And there’s so much I left I’ve left out. It’s a film I’ve seen a million times and I‘ll still keep coming back to it for its great visuals, fun sequences, and unforgettable characters.