Dumbo (1941)

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By Scott Ross

This Disney charmer about the elephant child whose freakishly large ears prove an irresistible asset was made, tellingly, while Uncle Walt was off Good-Neighboring in South America. Perhaps as a consequence it’s tighter (it runs only an hour) and less kitsch-prone and bathetic than many of the Disney cartoon features that would follow.

You can argue that the quartet of black crows is a racist daydream, but they’re among the liveliest and most appealing supporting characters the studio ever created. They even got a great song — one of many in this adorable fantasy — in “When I See an Elephant Fly.”

The song score, by house composers Ned Washington, Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace, is one of the finest ever written for a musical movie of any kind, and includes the haunting “Baby Mine” and the nightmarish “Pink Elephants on Parade,” which the animators rendered as a the staggering exercise in surrealism. (It was so good the Disney animators themselves imitated it 27 years later, to diminished effect, in the “Heffalumps and Woozels” sequence for Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.)

Ben Sharpsteen was the supervising director, and Edward Brophy provided the voice of Timothy Mouse. (Cliff Edwards, soon to be immortalized as Jiminy Cricket, was one of the crows.)

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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