Reviews of movies recently released or re-released on video or DVD.
“Dumbo,” Disney’s animated film about a big-eared baby elephant, was always a bit of a stepchild.
The shortest Disney cartoon feature ever at just 64 minutes, it was less expensive ($812,000) than the Disney features released the year before, “Pinocchio” ($2.5 million) and “Fantasia” ($2.3 million), and never grossed as well as most of its brethren.
Fittingly, it’s about the triumph of the underdog, a key Disney theme of the 1940s, according to John Cainmaker, who does an audio commentary for the 60th anniversary DVD.
He addresses the long-circulated rumor that Disney personally had relatively less to do with “Dumbo” than most of the others.
This much we can be sure of: “Dumbo” would not have been the same had it been made anytime from the late 1940s on. Never again, after “Dumbo” and the more popular “Bambi,” did the company broach so directly, much less so movingly, the notion that a mother might be torn away from her offspring or even killed.
But, in those days, children grew up with “Black Beauty,” “Oliver Twist” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” not “Pokemon,” “Digimon,” “Mulan” and “Pocahontas.”
Cainmaker is unusually insightful for an audio commentator on a Disney DVD, noting the cruel clowns (“demonic automatons”) and defending the singing crows, who came to be regarded as somewhat politically incorrect by the 1960s.
Among the “Dumbo” animators was Walt Kelly, who eventually left Disney and became celebrated as the cartoonist of the comic strip “Pogo.”
The DVD’s many extras include two animated shorts, sing-along songs, a featurette and a “Baby Mine” music video with Michael Crawford.
“Jurassic Park III”
You might get a jolt or two out of “Jurassic Park III,” but you cannot mistake it as anything but a sequel designed to re-work elements from a vastly superior original.
When a boy and his father, who have no business being there, get stranded in Jurassic Park, Sam Neill (from the first in the series) winds up returning to the island under false pretenses proffered by William H. Macy and Tea Leoni.
Forget story. The thin premise sets up more chasing and chomping and quite a lot of deja vu.
The DVD includes a commentary by the special effects team and assorted behind-the-scenes material involving the dinosaurs and the film’s creation.
Packages like this over-sell rather than inform.
The picture did quite well at the turnstiles, but history won’t treat it much better than it has the “Jaws” sequels.
“Inherit the Wind”
When Trans World Airlines was trying to build traffic for higher-priced first-class seating, it became the first airline to offer an in-flight movie: “Inherit the Wind.”
In less than a month, the movie will have outlasted TWA.
Based on a Jerome Lawrence-Robert E. Lee play that is frequently revived, “Inherit the Wind” fictionalizes the case of Tennessee schoolteacher John T. Scopes (Jeff York as a character re-named Bertram T. Cates), who was tried for teaching Darwinism.
He was prosecuted by fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan (Fredric March as Matthew Harrison Brady), defended by atheist Clarence Darrow (Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond) and reported on by Baltimore-based cynic H. L. Mencken (Gene Kelly as E. K. Hornbeck).
Dramatically strong throughout, “Inherit the Wind” contains some of the most dynamic nose-to-nose confrontations in film history by Tracy and March. And there’s a lovely performance by Florence Eldridge, March’s wife off screen and on.
“The Lone Ranger”
You never can tell what’s hiding beneath a bushel.
A new DVD of “Lone Ranger” TV episodes sells itself on the strength of containing four color episodes, which happen to be the first four from the 1956-57 season (“The Wooden Rifle,” “The Sheriff of Smoke Tree,” “The Counterfeit Mask” and “No Handicap”).
The real selling point is the two black-and-white episodes included as extras.
They are, in fact, the two-part premiere episode from 1949, “Enter the Lone Ranger” and “The Lone Ranger Fights On,” detailing the ambush of six Texas Rangers, the survival of just one (Clayton Moore as John Reid), his rescue by faithful Indian companion Tonto (Jay Silverheels) and Reid’s adoption of a new identity and mask.
Note that the ranger never kills. He merely disarms and sometimes slugs. But then, he never met a drug dealer, a child molester, a rapist or a gang so large he couldn’t out-wit and conquer it. No wonder he made it look so easy. Even if momentarily subdued, he somehow never got unmasked. What a guy.