(With the live-action Dumbo opening this Friday, March 29, here’s a reprint of the review of the 1941 animated version when it debuted on Blu-ray in September 2011.)

DUMBO (1941)
★★★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Ben Sharpsteen
STARS Edward Brophy, Sterling Hollway

It often seems as if Blu-ray was created primarily as a showcase for animated features, and here comes Dumbo to again prove this point. This genuine classic may be 70 years old, but the clarity and colors explode anew in this format, making for an eye-popping experience.

As for the film itself, it was reportedly Walt Disney’s favorite of his own output, doubtless part of the reason being that its success saved the studio as it struggled from the soft performances of Pinocchio and Fantasia (both 1940). Running a scant 64 minutes, this story of alienation, acceptance and personal achievement centers on the little elephant with the big ears, a trusting soul who’s treated poorly by everyone except his doting mother Mrs. Jumbo, the rambunctious Timothy Q. Mouse, and, late in the game, several cheerful crows.

The imagination that went into conceptualizing each segment is astounding, with the drunken “pink elephants” sequence a particular highlight. And with apologies to Bambi’s mom, the moment when lonely Dumbo is comforted by his imprisoned mom through the cell bars might be the real heartbreaker in the Disney canon.

An Academy Award winner for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, this also earned a Best Original Song nomination for “Baby Mine,” although, truth be told, the other tunes (including “When I See an Elephant Fly” and “Elephants on Parade”) are just as exemplary.

Blu-ray extras include the Cine-Explore option (picture-in-picture interviews); a deleted scene and a deleted song (both starring Timothy Q. Mouse); a 28-minute making-of featurette; a 15-minute piece in which various people (including Roy Disney and Leonard Maltin) discuss the movie’s appeal; an absolutely fascinating segment (excerpted from the 1941 behind-the-Disney-scenes film The Reluctant Dragon) showing how the sound effects were created for the Dumbo character Casey Junior (the train); two vintage cartoon shorts (Elmer Elephant and The Flying Mouse); and two interactive children’s games.

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