Monday, December 16, 2013

The Dumbo Anomalies

Walt Disney's Dumbo was theatrically re-released four times prior to its home video debut in 1981. Its first theatrical re-release was in 1949, which was the first part of a double-bill with the 42-minute Saludos Amigos. Then Walt Disney showed an edited version of the film on the Disneyland television series in 1955, but the film was still theatrically re-released after that. One notable re-release was in 1976, as the film was on a double-bill with Australian live-action Disney production Ride a Wild Pony. (The film had been released in its home country a year earlier.)

That double-bill would be the last time Dumbo would be shown in cinemas in North America. In 1978, NBC showed it on television. Dumbo was one of two full-length single-story Disney animated features that was shown on television; the other was Alice in Wonderland. Dumbo had more than turned a profit, and it was a very short feature (at 64 minutes), so Walt opted to show it on television given the roughly hour-long time slot his show occupied.

This was the main reason why it was released on videocassette during Walt Disney Home Video's early years. The tape was released in the summer of 1981 - not too long after the formation of the home video division in 1980 - for rental only, probably because it was an animated classic and Disney at least held it to high regards. This may not have been one of the animated classics that would only show up in theaters, but they still treated it with such respect to the point where you could only rent it… That was until the summer of 1982 when a sale only version was released to go alongside the rental only version.

Here's what it looks like…

Beauty, isn't it? I've had this gem since March 2006, it's one of the crown jewels of my Disney videocassette collection. This is a later printing though, from November 22, 1983 - the original owner must've gotten it around Christmastime! Hey, tis the season, right?

Of course, this was a few years before the creation of the Classics line, which this film would be put in right away. By mid-1985, two "never shown anywhere outside of cinemas" animated Disney films were on videocassette and of course part of this line: Robin Hood and Pinocchio. What was next? Well, a holiday promotion was coming up which Pinocchio would headline. Disney then found it necessary to re-release Dumbo with Classics packaging, diamond logo and everything. This promotion kicked off on December 3, 1985 and continued into January of 1986. All titles were priced at $29.95, which was a response to the initially lukewarm sales of the Pinocchio videocassette - originally priced at $79.95! Robin Hood, too.

The first two Classics releases of course bore the Classics diamond on the packaging, the inside of the clamshell, the videocassette's label and in animated intro before the start of the film!

So you'd think the Classics edition of Dumbo would too, right?

Yes, yes I know… 1987 cover…

Well, the packaging shows the logos on the spine, the back, the inside, the label… Oddly enough though, Dumbo's spine and back don't have artwork, just a plain pink background. (Fitting, because "Pink Elephants on Parade".) This is just like the Robin Hood case, but not the Pinocchio one, which had a full, lavish background going from the front cover to the spine to the back cover. Rush-job, maybe? That nice circus backdrop would've made for a suitable spine.

Also, what's with the font Dumbo is written in on the spine? I mean, you don't see it anywhere else on this package… The cover artwork's logo is instead a purple and pink version of the yellow/red one from the 1982 cover, rightfully so. This is a rare case where a Classics edition used a different font for the film's title on the spine, and it remains one of the most unusual Classics releases because of this.

But then you pop in the tape. When I first got my copy in October 2006, I was expecting the Classics logo to show up since all of the re-issue versions from 1986 to 1988 use that logo. Boy was I surprised when the 1983 Walt Disney Home Video logo showed up instead!

This was followed by the print used for the 1981 VHS: Blue MPAA rating screen, the silent Buena Vista logo and the "Walt Disney and You" promo at the very end… Weird, weird, weird…

(Note: Later printings don't use the blue MPAA screen or Buena Vista logo for some weird reason. My VHS copy is an earlier printing from August 29, 1985.)

This has always baffled me… My main theory was always this:

Dumbo was going to be re-issued in late 1985 as a regular Walt Disney Home Video release with a white case with a border around the artwork, and the Sorcerer Mickey/WDHV logo on top, much like any late 1985 release of a live action Disney title.

Like this… Except this is a 1986
release, meaning this came in a
white clamshell case with
removable artwork...

Why? Because Dumbo was shown on television, unlike the "out of reach" Pinocchio and Robin Hood

But at last minute, they figured, "It's one of the classics, so it should be a full-blown Classics edition!" And thus the package was quickly put together - hence the plain pink backdrop used for the spine and back cover - but the tape masters (my earliest printing is one of my Beta copies - from January 1985! If only I knew what was on it…) containing the Neon Mickey logo were of course ready, so they just used what they had.

So even with the Classics line in place, did Disney still consider Dumbo a non-classic because it was shown on television multiple times and happened to hit video very early on? (An article from the late 1980s made mention of its short length, suggesting that it wasn't Classics-y enough) Or was it a big video editing mistake? Was a slightly updated master prepared back in 1983 for a possible re-issue somewhere down the line?

Well… A long time ago, I came across a variation of the 1982 VHS on eBay that I never saw again…

In late 1984 and early 1985, Disney began re-issuing live action titles whilst releasing new ones alongside them. The packaging for these cassettes was the same as the early 1980s packages, except for some reason, the "HOME VIDEO" part of the Walt Disney Home Video print logo was written in a new font, one that didn't resemble the EPCOT logo…

The label on this Dumbo VHS had the font on the right… I have never seen another copy bearing that logo since. Also, it came in the 1985 Classics clamshell case! But that tape leads me to believe that Disney prepared a new master using the updated Neon Mickey logo for a possible 1985 re-issue that didn't materialize… And since I've only seen this tape once, who knows how it opened… Only those who had it! Of course, things were corrected for the 1986 re-issue. Disney must've realized their error, I mean, why else would we see such corrections?

That one opens with the correct logo, as expected and has the version of the film where it just begins with the "Walt Disney presents" title card; no MPAA screen or Buena Vista title card, no "Walt Disney and You" promo at the end.

But then we've got Alice in Wonderland, also given the video treatment very early on since Walt showed it on television in the 1950s: For rental only in 1981, made for sale in 1982 and then got the Classics treatment some 3 1/2 years later. Now let's take a look at that…

Alice in Wonderland's Classics edition was released on May 28, 1986 - it was the centerpiece of a summer promotion: The Wonderland Sale. For the first time, Disney films were being packaged in cardboard slipcovers as opposed to bulky clamshells. Several live action films and other titles got this treatment, as the sale was a hit. (For the record, I saw the press kit for the Wonderland Sale a few years ago. Interesting stuff…)

My copy, printed on April 24, 1986, opens with the Classics logo… However…

Wow! Will you look at that…

The first run Alice in Wonderland videocassette was withdrawn sometime in late 1983, which is odd considering that the sale-only version was only out for a year by the time this happened. Anyways, it wouldn't return to video until 1986, but the earliest printings containing this logo instead of the Classics logo also suggest that Disney wanted to re-issue this title as a standard Walt Disney Home Video release as opposed to a Classics one in early 1985, since the Classics line just got fired up in late 1984. Either that, or it was just another video editing error!

The uploader also said the closed captions for this tape said "COPYRIGHT 1985 WALT DISNEY PRODUCTIONS"… Okay, maybe the tape was slated for late 1985, the holiday promotion to be exact. Maybe they were planning to go the non-Classics route with both Dumbo and Alice. It makes sense because both were not in the "untouchable" Classics league. But contradicting this is the marketing for The Black Cauldron, which hit theaters in the summer of 1985. Disney fully established the current animated canon we know today when marketing that unfortunate film; it being the 25th full-length feature was emphasized.

Okay, so maybe masters were prepared in early 1985, maybe Disney still considered Dumbo and Alice non-Classics titles. Maybe the Neon Mickeys are just from masters for re-issues that never materialized…

But… Hello wrench in the gears!

The earliest printings of The Sword in the Stone (released on March 25, 1986) - the film being one of the never-shown-on-TV classics - contain the 1983 Neon Mickey logo as well!

What, did Disney employees just not like the 1984 Classics logo and decided to use the Mickey logo instead for a little while? Or was it just coincidental video editing errors that just happened to well… Happen? If we're talking about better logos, the Neon Mickey one wins by a slight margin because the Scanimate/computer-generated imagery in it isn't as cheap-looking as what's used in the Classics logo. Maybe the WDHV employees or editors didn't care for the flipping text logo and just used the grand Neon Mickey one instead. If that were the case, I bet someone down there objected to this logo favoritism. (Making this all up? Probably…)

I mean, that's three in a row right there! Dumbo in December 1985, Sword in March 1986 and Alice in May 1986… Sheesh, Neon Mickey appearing on Classics tapes, who would've thought? These particular mistakes never happened again after Alice in Wonderland, all future Classics releases contained the proper logos.

But back to Dumbo

Things got more confusing for me in January 2008, when I came across… This!

Since I don't have a Betamax player nor do I know anyone who owns one, I have no idea what's on this tape. I don't know if it opens with the Neon Mickey logo or the Classics logo, but man do I want to know! Anyways, it is legitimate, it has a print date: July 22, 1986.

Still, it leads me to believe that someone or Disney as a whole still kind of acted strange towards Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland for being two animated films that were shown on the small screen and not exclusively shown in theaters. The package features never got Classics editions: The Three Caballeros and Fun & Fancy Free were first released on video in 1982, Caballeros got a Classics-esque package in 1987 but it lacked the Classics logo. Fun & Fancy Free on the other hand got jack, same goes for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. They had to wait until the Masterpiece Collection…

Well… I'll have to update it the day I run this thing on a Betamax player.

Also… The print of the film itself...

The film print used on the 1981 videocassette begins with the blue MPAA screen (which preceded films in theaters back in the day), a silent Buena Vista title card and then the start of the credits. Since the first seconds of the opening fanfare is inexplicably missing, the start of the credits music is abrupt and quite jarring. It just starts, like boom!

A typical MPAA screen that preceded films
in the 1970s and 1980s...

On the early 1990s videocassettes (packaged in a case with artwork that was designed and released in 1989, and just used to house 1988 tapes until the next edition came out) of the film, the Buena Vista logo has the music intact. I just assumed, until 2010, that the missing seconds was just another textbook Disney video editing error. I was wrong!

A good friend of mine, superfunforeveryone a.k.a. thememorylanechannel, uploaded three 16mm prints of Disney films three years ago, but they've been off of YouTube since. The videos contained the openings and some bits of the films themselves: Pinocchio, Dumbo and Peter Pan. The first two were most likely from the early-to-mid 1970s, Peter Pan's must've been from 1969 since it uses the MPAA screen with the rating being in the middle of the screen.

Dumbo's was rather interesting because the Buena Vista logo was there, but the first seconds of the fanfare wasn't. It began the same way the videocassette did! But Pinocchio had its opening fanfare playing over the BV card, ditto Peter Pan. Why was the music missing from Dumbo? Was it always like that in the post-1949 re-issues?

This was also confirmed even further by this…

Yep, for some reason, Dumbo's re-issue prints muted the opening seconds of the credits fanfare. In 1991, Disney finally updated the master for the film. The film appears to have been restored in some way, though not in the painstaking way Snow White was restored for its 1987 re-release, Disney only did that for Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty afterwards until doing it for all their films in the late 1990s. Either that, or they found a film print that was in much better shape.

This master would be used on all late 1991 prints and onwards. Many Disney video collecting sites and whatnot have the release date of this version pegged at July 12, 1991 - same day as the Robin Hood's return to home video. I have a copy printed on August 2, 1991 that uses the 1986 master, rather than the updated one. A rare late pressing of the previous tape master? Mix-up?

Then the other day, fellow collector systemoperator a.k.a. Jiminy Cricket found this in a 1997 Jungle Book VHS he recently acquired…

Apparently Disney was going to give Dumbo another Masterpiece Edition release some time in 1998, but this never materialized… However, Disney kind of made up for that by giving Alice in Wonderland and Robin Hood second Masterpiece releases in 1999, both sporting brand new cover artwork that would later be used for their 2000 Gold Classic Collection editions.

Dumbo's next video release wouldn't occur until 2001, the 60th Anniversary Edition.

And then, things happened again when it came to the film's Blu-ray debut! Slated for early 2010, promo materials such as inserts appeared inside late 2009-era Disney Blu-rays such as the Diamond Edition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was delayed indefinitely, though the UK, Mexico, Japan and presumably most of Europe got it in spring 2010. Why Disney delayed its US release, I don't know. Perhaps it was because spring 2010 was already crowded? I mean, you had new release The Princess and the Frog, the Blu-ray debut of Toy Story and Toy Story 2, and at the time, the Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 Diamond Edition-that-never-happened was slated for spring.

We finally got the film on Blu-ray, with the same cover artwork and all, as a 70th Anniversary Edition on September 20, 2011. Man… Waiting for that was quite a chore!

So many oddities for one particular film on videocassette… Or home media in general, period.

On that note, I'll say a little something about the film itself: It's one of Walt Disney's finest. I love how the animators worked with the shoestring budget and opted for a more cartoony style for the animation, which a lot of the time borders on pure surrealism (Of course, there's the "Pink Elephants on Parade" sequence, one of the best sequences in animation history). Even the score accentuates this! Aside from the look of it, the story is so well-told in just a mere 64 minutes, a great showcase of Walt's ace storytelling sensibilities. Like the best Disney classics, it doesn't shy away from darker moments and pure emotion; it's fun and joyous while also being appropriately sad when it must be.

In short, I consider it to be one of the greatest Disney animated features…

To close this all off, here are the original Slovanian opening credits for the film, most likely sourced from a 16mm print. Look at how radically different they are!

And also, the original Czechoslavakian credits… These credits are even more different!

It looks like I've found a little piece to the puzzle!

While surfing eBay yesterday, I happened to come across this…

Yes indeed… The early 1980s edition of Dumbo with a slightly revised cover and label that ditches the early 1980s EPCOT-esque font used for "HOME VIDEO" in the Walt Disney Home Video print logo. 

This later pressing must be very, very uncommon. Of course, like I said, I had seen the tape itself packaged inside the black Classics clamshell many years ago, but I have never seen the case using that font for "HOME VIDEO". It leads me to believe that either the print is rare, or it just didn't sell much since the re-issues of most of the early 1980s releases in 1984/1985 were low-key. They were just sort of there in the catalogues, though I'm guessing the Classics edition of Dumbo was a bigger deal. After all, the posters for the "Making Your Dreams Come True" promotion featured it.

Hmmm… Now all I need to find are some brochures from around late 1985. How much promotion did this thing get? (I remember talking to a former video store worker about this back in '06, for the life of me I can't remember what he specifically said about the 1985 clamshell. Silly me.)

But yes… This is apparently a rarity. Now if only I knew how it opened! Maybe another collector out there will find one, scoop it up and say what it is somewhere. Or upload it…

* Top image courtesy of fellow collector NickWilliam89, the original photo is from his deviantART...


  1. Boy do I wish I had kept my brochures and proof of purchase inserts. I had no idea anyone would ever want them.

  2. It's also worth mentioning that all of the Classics editions of "Dumbo" use the exact same summary/description on the back ("One of the true Disney masterpieces...the poignant animated Classic about Dumbo, a baby elephant born with oversized ears..." etc.) I don't know if this was laziness, or if they wanted to intentionally make it similar to the 1985 case ("The Sword in the Stone" had a new summary written for the 1989 cover artwork revision, strangely.) As we already know, "Dumbo" simply had its cover artwork redone in 1989 to help promote the video debut of "Bambi," as well as to presumably make it more up-to-date.

  3. I'm looking for a price on this vhs. I have a few of them, and I plan to hold on to them for a very long time. I'm just wondering a current value.

  4. Hi, I have a 1982 VHS copy of Disney's Home Video Dumbo, with clamshell case and excellent working casette. What's interesting about it is that it does not have the FBI warning on the label or on anywhere in the movie. The only thing it has is a notice not to duplicate in whole or in part of the movie. On the label it says ' Duplication in whole or part of this videocassette is prohibited' FOR SALE, RENTAL PROHIBITED. I can't find another one of these anywhere. Trying to find out more information and if its rare as it seems like it is...?

  5. Hi, I have a 1982 VHS copy of Disney's Home Video Dumbo, with clamshell case and excellent working casette. What's interesting about it is that it does not have the FBI warning on the label or on anywhere in the movie. The only thing it has is a notice not to duplicate in whole or in part of the movie. On the label it says ' Duplication in whole or part of this videocassette is prohibitted' FOR SALE, RENTAL PROHIBITED. I can't find another one of these anywhere. Trying to find out more information and if its rare as it seems liikeit is...?