A Year: Day to Day Men: 23rd of October, Solar Year 2018

Afternoon Slumber

October 23, 1941 marks the release in New York City of Walt Disney’s “Dumbo”.

“Dumbo” was the fourth animated film produced by Walt Disney Productions. It is based on the storyline written by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl. Jumbo Junior is the main character, an anthropomorphic young elephant cruelly nicknamed “Dumbo”. He has unusually large ears with which he is capable of flying. His only true friend is Timothy, a mouse, which belied the stereotypical animosity between the two animal species.

The voice actors in “Dumbo” were not given any credit for their roles. This was done for all four of the first animated films Disney made; Walt Disney wished to maintain the illusion with the audience that the characters were real. The title character Dumbo did not have an actor since he did not have any spoken dialogue. Timothy Mouse was voiced by character actor Edward Brody, who frequently played dumb cops and gangsters in films, one of which was role as Brogan in the 1944 “The Thin Man Goes Home”.

“Dumbo” was originally intended to be a short film; but Disney realized, that to do justice to Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl’s book, it needed to be feature-length. Disney Studios was in financial difficulty at the time, as both “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia” did poorly at the box office due to the war in Europe. When the film went into production in early 1941, director Ben Sharpsteen was told to keep the film simple and inexpensive. Thus, “Dumbo” lacks the lavish detail of the previous three animated films; background paintings are less detailed; and the character designs are simpler.

During its production period, the leader of the Screen Cartoonist’s Guild, Herbert Sorrell, demanded that Disney sign with his union, rather than the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, with which Disney had already signed. After Disney refused twice, much of the Disney studio staff went on strike. The strike lasted five weeks, and ended the family atmosphere and camaraderie at the Disney Studios.

The movie was completed in fall of 1941 and RKO Radio Pictures released “Dumbo”. After its October 23 release in New York City, “Dumbo” proved to be a financial success despite the advent of World War II. Despite its low cost, substantially lower than the three previously released Disney animated films, “Snow White”, “Pinocchio”, and “Fantasia”, it eventually grossed the equivalent of twenty-seven million dollars today. “Dumbo” and “Snow White” were the only pre-1943 Disney features to earn a profit.

“Dumbo” won the 1941 Academy Award for Best Original Score, awarded to its musical directors Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace. The film also won Best Animation Design at the 1947 Cannes Film Festival. On July 8, 2014, it was announce that a live-action re-imagining of “Dumbo” was in development, directed by Tim Burton. Casting is now complete and the film is scheduled to be released in March of 2019.

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