Walt Disney’s Dumbo, Then and Now

On March 11, 2019, Tim Burton’s live-action/animated remake of Dumbo made its special Los Angeles premiere. The film loosely retells the story from Disney’s 1941 original, but without talking animals; instead, the film’s focus is more on the various performers in the Medici Brothers’ Circus, circa 1919, and their reactions to a CGI-animated baby elephant. A number of Tim Burton’s regular actors appear in the film, including Danny DeVito as ringmaster Max Medici; Michael Keaton as V. A. Vandevere, who (like Stromboli in Pinocchio) wants to buy the circus and exploit Dumbo for his own amusement park, Dreamland; and Eva Green (featured in Burton’s Dark Shadows movie) as trapeze artist Colette.

The new movie is very attractive and made quite a splash, but for many, the original animated classic feature film from 1941 is tough to top. At 64 minutes, this movie is short and sweet; it’s loaded with color and lots of heart (with several great songs, too, like “Baby Mine”). No wonder then that original production artwork from the 1941 version of Dumbo has been on the short list of many a serious animation collector, with demand for choice pieces far outstripping the limited supply.

Dumbo Timothy Mouse and Dumbo Production Cel Courvoisier Setup (Walt Disney, 1941)

Dumbo Timothy Mouse and Dumbo Production Cel Courvoisier Setup (Walt Disney, 1941)

 

Well, Dumbo fans, Heritage Auctions has done it again, bringing together a handful of extremely rare concept and storyboard art from the film, as well as collectible Vernon Kiln Art Ware pieces, and one of the finest Limited Edition cels ever created (with a low issue number of 8 out of a slim edition size of 275).

The concept artwork, created during the early development of Dumbo, is among the most interesting items this cataloger (and fan of the film) has ever seen. The trippy visuals from the “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence is unforgettable; equally impressive is a concept painting of the ghostly pachyderm group, painted on black paper.

Dumbo Pink Elephants Concept Painting (Walt Disney, 1941)

Dumbo Pink Elephants Concept Painting (Walt Disney, 1941)

 

A favorite scene for many fans is the “Casey Junior” song and train sequence. Sung by The Sportsmen Quartet in the film, the song’s lyrics are hard to forget: “Casey Junior’s comin’ down the track, comin’ down the track with a smoky stack. Hear him puffin’, coming round the hill; Casey’s here to thrill every Jack and Jill.” Our concept painting of the conductor as he shouts “All Aboard” mirrors the scene as filmed; it’s a wonderful piece of artwork.

Dumbo Circus Conductor on Casey Junior Concept Painting (Walt Disney, 1941)

Dumbo Circus Conductor on Casey Junior Concept Painting (Walt Disney, 1941)

 

One of our favorite pieces in this selection of original production art is a rare concept/storyboard drawing of Dumbo as he would appear inside the big tent on Circus Day. He’s waving his trunk and wearing his fancy headdress with an joyful expression; this one is about as cute as they come! Only a heart as cold as The Grinch would not fall in love with this adorable face!

Dumbo Concept Storyboard Drawing Original Art (Walt Disney, 1941)

Dumbo Concept/Storyboard Drawing Original Art (Walt Disney, 1941)

We hope all of you see and enjoy Tim Burton’s take on this Disney Classic, but let’s not forget the original version. Just take a look at the Dumbo offerings in this auction, and let them trigger some happy memories of watching the movie on the old VCR. Dust off the DVD player or find it with your Roku device, and give it one more viewing – we think you’ll be glad you did!

 

Posted by David Tosh

David Tosh is a cataloger for the Animation Art department. He is also the author of Rise of the Superheroes: Greatest Silver Age Comic Books and Characters and editor of the Eisner Award-nominated Walt Kelly’s Fables and Funnies. His most recent book is Jumbo Mumbo.

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