Walt Disney Records, 1997
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/11/1998
How can you tell when a soundtrack has done its job? Not only is the music enjoyable, but each musical selection returns you to that particular moment in the movie, and allows you to recreate the film in your head.
Case in point: the soundtrack to Disney's 1941 film Dumbo, recently re-released in their "Classic Soundtrack Series". A tale that is so well-known to kids (and believe me, I was quite upset when I missed the recent showing of the film on The Disney Channel) and a film that remains just as popular with the parents and the grandparents who can remember seeing this in the theatres, this soundtrack might not have the glitz of recent albums, but it is still able to put a smile on my face bigger than any greasepaint a clown can think up.
Right from the "Main Title" music, you almost feel like you've been lifted into the middle of a three-ring circus, from the brass band to the caliope. You can see the circus train pass by during "Casey Junior," you can imagine the tents taking shape thanks to heavy labor courtesy of "Song of the Roustabouts". When our hero finally enters the picture, the mood created by the music is perfect for selections like "Bathtime/Hide and Seek" - one which I can definitely relate to as the parent of a 22-month-old.
But just as the music can create smiles, it can also bring the listener to the point of tears, especially on the selection "Baby Mine". Even my father admitted this song will get to the hardest of hearts - I defy anyone not to feel some sadness when they picture Dumbo reaching out for his now caged-up mother.
A few of the songs seem a little out of place, both without the film and for today's times. "Clown Song" seems a little pointless without an actual visual aid, while the repeating of "When I See an Elephant Fly" doesn't seem to fit with the '90s, especially with the caricatures of the crows. Still, these points are minor compared to the whole album.
The most difficult thing about this soundtrack is the way songs are grouped together. It often is hard to separate which movement belongs with which title, especially when you have five or six titles grouped onto one track. The tracks also are slightly misnumbered; there's a break between movements on tracks 16 and 17; I would guess that 17 begins with "Dumbo's Triumph". Corrections from our friends at Walt Disney Studios are welcomed.
The surprise inclusion on this disc is a demo recording of "Spread Your Wings," a piece which did not make it in the final cut of the film. Time has not been kind to this recording, nor has it been cruel - I've heard tapes in worse condition than this selection. In one sense, it's interesting to hear this song as a memory of what once was a "work in progress" - and one wonders why this one never made it into the film. It is quite good.
Dumbo might not have the pop hits of other Disney soundtracks like The Lion King or Pocahontas, but it captures the essence of the movie well, and is a great thing to listen to if you don't have access to your VCR. Kids and adults alike will love this disc - it truly brings out the kid in everyone.