This is the film that Walt Disney himself shook his head at thanks to its cost- and corner-cutting in the shadow of a looming world war, but this same film actually helped save the studio. Following the debacle that was Fantasia (1940) and the very expensive Pinocchio (1941), Disney needed a low budget money-maker, and his animation team (along with his fiscally conservative brother Roy) helped deliver Dumbo, a mixture of Disney’s preferred “full” animation and the more spare “East Coast” style animation that Disney had turned away from some 10 years earlier.
The result was a film that cost much less than other Disney projects and played very well even without the overseas markets, which were closed thanks to the outbreak of WWII. It’s fun to watch the contrasts between the two very different styles of animation in this film. Watch particularly scenes like Dumbo’s mother caressing him from her cell, which can be called characteristically Disney-ish, as opposed to the “Pink Elephants on Parade” segment, where the Disney “look” is set aside in favor of a more metamorphic, “cartoony” look that had been favored by New York animators for many years.
The end result is a spare 77-minute film that is not only enjoyable and good family fare, but also is a bit of a historical document revealing the tumultuous times Disney and others were enduring as WWII approached.