Monthly Archives: January 2012

Dumbo (1941)

As Dumbo's mother is imprisoned, she slides her trunk through the bars to rock her baby to sleep, singing the Oscar-nominated song Baby Mine.

Dumbo is the movie that made every child cry. When the titular elephant’s mother is hauled away before his eyes and thrown behind bars, Dumbo curls up in his mother’s trunk — as close as he can be to her — and lets her rock him back and forth as she sings. The audience is in tears.

Dumbo is a script short on dialog. It is Disney’s only animated feature in which the title character never utters a word. Even Dumbo’s mother only has one line of dialog: early in the film when she speaks his real name (Jumbo Jr.) for the first time — it’s the catty circus elephants she shares a train car with that nickname him Dumbo. The film is only 64 minutes long. But it is widely regarded as the most raw and emotional of all of Disney’s animated features. The only film which has since come close to packing that much emotion into such a short amount of time was the opening sequence of Pixar’s Up — even though not technically a part of the traditional canon.

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Fantasia (1940)

The Sorcerer's Apprentice makes some magic of his own.

As a kid, I will admit, I hated this movie with a passion. The film has no story line, barely any dialogue, no engaging characters. The music didn’t even have any lyrics! In short, my eight-year-old self found it completely boring. What I’ve come to realize now is Fantasia is no kid’s movie. It’s art in every sense of the word. And, after viewing the film for the first time as an adult, I’ve gained a newfound appreciation for Walt’s crown jewel. Indeed, The New York Times review in 1940 said, “Motion-picture history was made.” And that’s no exaggeration.

William, on the other hand, has loved this movie since his first viewing. He has tried many times over the years to get me to watch it with him, but my eight-year-old memories turned him down every time. He’s likely pretty excited now to know that I’ll be up for several more viewings over the course of our lives.

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Pinocchio (1940)

A scene from Pinocchio depicting Geppetto's creation of the little wooden boy.

Pinocchio was Walt Disney’s second full length animated feature. Using the same filming techniques and much of the same production technology as Snow White, the film secured The Walt Disney Company as North America’s leader in animation.

The story, a blatant morality tale, covers a wooden boy who must learn the difference between right and wrong in order to become “a real boy.” Lying, betrayal and vice all come with physical and often devastating consequences. Stromboli remains one of the cruelest Disney villains to ever see the screen (locking a child in a cold wooden cage and threatening death if he doesn’t make enough money is top-bar villainy even Maleficent would have a hard time matching.)

Pinocchio also introduced the world to one of the most recognizable musical scores ever written: “When You Wish Upon a Star.” The tune even became part of Walt Disney’s open sequence for all subsequent films and is almost synonymous with the Disney brand.

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Some of the rejected dwarf names included Gloomy, Shifty and Awful. Sneezy was a last-minute replacement for a dwarf named Deefy.

First out of the Disney canon is, of course, Snow White. The Brothers Grimm story of the beautiful young princess whose only offence was being considered more beautiful than the Queen reportedly resonated with a young Walt, who was determined to use the tale to showcase the beauty of animation.

Production began in 1934. Walt estimated the film could be made for $250,000. Costs quickly ballooned to almost $1.5-million by the time it was released in December, 1937 — a staggering price for a film made in the midst of deep depression. But, as we all now know, the film was hailed as a technical and commercial success, proving animated films could be beautiful art and launching a string of some of the most beloved cinematic achievements in film history. According to Box Office Mojo, the film’s run grossed over $66-million, which has since grown to a lifetime gross of more than $184-million. In 1938, the film was awarded an Oscar for its technical achievements despite the Academy’s lack of a category for animation. Famously, the film was given one regular-sized statuette and seven miniature ones to mark the special occasion.

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