March to Disney: What Bolt and Dumbo Share

This is a series of posts this month wherein I will focus on Disney films. For more on my background with Disney films and about the timing of this focus please read the introductory post here.

What’s been great is that I have through sheer luck managed to come across titles I had previously not seen as soon as this theme started. Just recently while browsing Netflix these two titles came up, then randomly on a Sunday morning on Disney Channel Bolt came on.

Now, again, this film came out when I wasn’t as ardently following Disney films. Since it happened to be starting I stuck with it, even with the commercial interruptions. What I hadn’t realized before it came out was that the tale, in which a dog who has been raised to believe the TV show he’s the star of is reality, is not just the set-up to The Truman Show, but in a way Disney refashioning Dumbo with a modern twist.

I saw that because the goals and the protagonists are similar inasmuch as they are unwitting stars. Dumbo is young and knows only the circus, his large ears are hidden, when they come out he’s mocked by the public he’d tried to win. When he learns to fly his unique trait is not a stigma but a mark of pride. The naïveté in the story is more about how he perceives the world.

Bolt’s reality, more modern, stylized, with action sequences, is no different. He’s presented everything as if it’s happening and has to defend his master. Granted the means of production, the stuntmen, the pyro rigs, any essentials needed to produce a TV show, are hidden so it’s easier for him to accept the reality. By chance he gets marooned out in the real world and he wants to and feels he needs to return home to the studio. He faces a lot of hard truths he has to come to terms with, the reversals of fortune are strong and quickly dealt with and the film is very funny.

While there are twists to it, like Dumbo being a more knowing participant in the circus, not that he ever “agrees,” it breaks down to the same path. You substitute a mother for an owner and both seek reunion with that figure. Both struggle against the odds and ultimately win out, gain that reunion and freedom from the life of performance that kept them trapped.

A recent New York Times article had one of the most telling quotes I ever saw, it was a discussion of both films and criticism where the statement “They don’t make them like they used to and they never did” was made. It may seem obvious that film is an ever-evolving artform, but sometimes it’s hard to accept that. There are technical and narrative trends that are the norm and en vogue in one decade and seem passé and almost wrong in another.

Dumbo is a masterpiece because of how perfectly all the elements of the story are rendered from the animation, to the emotional engagement, to the story, music and songs. Everything fits and works perfectly. I wouldn’t say Bolt is a masterpiece but it is very good, in part, because it borrows and adapts so well from a great source. Everyone borrows, self-plagiarism is style and any other quote you can think of can apply to this notion. Disney has done it before, but while it has fallen flat on other occasions like in Hercules, here it’s an infusion of technique, action film editing, humor and an updated sensibility that doesn’t seem forced that really makes it work.

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March to Disney: Introduction

Though it really kicked off in my last Short Film Saturday post, and there were Disney titles among my 31 days of Oscar selections, this is where my March to Disney theme starts in earnest.

As to the timing of this focus, that owes itself to the fact that I will be going to Disney World during this month. Naturally it would seem to be the right time to get caught up and re-focus on their titles.

A brief history of my relationship with Disney films is as follows:

So far as I can remember a re-release of Bambi was the first film I went to see on the big screen. Bambi, of course, being one of the more silent and also more marking of the Disney animated features due to the fact that it not only tells the tale of an orphaned child, but within the story includes the death of Bambi’s mother.

Aside from that I saw many of the classics countless times as a kid.

My first trip to Disney World occurred when I was fairly young.

As I grew, and started to watch films in all forms, my horizons, of course, expanded. There was the occasional Disney title that would then not interest me, and after seeing Hercules, and disliking it a great deal; I went on a hiatus.

However, I did return. Now, through my fandom of Disney, I have come to a very safe and accurate, I feel, metaphor about said fandom. If you like the product of a studio its akin to being the fan of a sports team, your loyalty does not forbid your honesty. Yes, there are things about the company in terms of business over the years, and on the creative side, that I don’t necessarily agree with. However, that doesn’t color my view of their titles I’ve seen that work for me and I enjoy.

Aside from the timing of the trip this is also a focused and concerted effort to get DVDs or Blus that I haven’t gotten to yet seen. So there will be some re-assessments, reviews and other pieces and based on what I’ve already seen. I’ll likely rank the Disney feature-length Animated films, the crown jewels in their empire.

For a number of years, namely the ones where I was off elsewhere, Disney was fairly lost. Now, however, it seems that regardless of which branch of the family tree you’re discussing they’re doing fairly well both creatively and financially. Many of the pieces I write will be on the animated films, both during and after Walt’s time, but there will also be discussion of their live action ventures and maybe some talk of the more recently acquired subsidiaries of note namely Pixar, Marvel and LucasFilm.

So my first post on an individual film should be up tomorrow. Enjoy!