Cinema: Mammal-of-the-Year

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The Grant-Huemer script, which had the germ of every important episode of the final screen version, gave Dumbo a voice, but it was quickly evident that the way to insure the taupe-colored little elephant's appeal was to keep him mute. He is, except for a few burps after he has inadvertently imbibed champagne and an occasional infantile yip.

Able Director Ben Sharpsteen and his staff fretted over Dumbo's characterization and form, had about decided to give him a head shaped like a human's when Artist Vladimir ("Bill") Tytla asserted himself. Dark, ponderous Tytla is generally assigned to the "heavies," created the devil-giant for Fantasia's Night on Bald Mountain. Since he was doing the big elephants, he had to draw a Dumbo stand-in for the sequence in which Mrs. Jumbo receives her baby via stork.

"I gave him everything I thought he should have," said Tytla. "It just happened. I don't know a damn thing about elephants. It wasn't that, I was thinking in terms of humans, and I saw a chance to do a character without using any cheap theatrics. Most of the expressions and mannerisms I got from my own kid.

There's nothing theatrical about a two-year-old kid. They're real and sincere—like when they damn near wet their pants from excitement when you come home at night. I've bawled my kid out for pestering me when I'm reading or something, and he doesn't know what to make of it.

He'll just stand there and maybe grab my hand and cry. ... I tried to put all those things in Dumbo." Tough little Timothy Q. (for nothing) Mouse, Dumbo's wise-guy protector, was sired in much the same way by impish Artist Fred Moore. Says he: "The greatest problem with Timothy was not to make him too cute. We had to get a tough guy with a big heart. ... I just played around with him . . . had him walk a couple of dozen steps in 12 frames, then in eight . . . until I got just the right cockiness to it. ... When I finally got rolling on him, he was the easiest fellow I've ever done." These performances set the tone for all of Dumbo. Sequence Director Norm Ferguson merely sat down and listened to Oliver Wallace's and Frank Churchill's score for the pink elephant sequence, which Dumbo and Timothy view through champagne eyes, and "just let it come out of the music." Disney v. Mars. While his top employes were having fun, Disney was suffering.

Hip-deep in debt ($4,000,000), he couldn't see his way out. Of his four expensive full-length features, only Snow White was really making money.* He had to trim his sails, give up his costly epics. He began paring his staff of 1,181 employes to a basic 450, and a long and acrimonious strike hit him. As a result he left Dumbo to his staff, for the most part played critic, suggesting sensitive little touches here & there.

When Disney quit his stricken plant, his fiscal worries, and sailed for South America last summer ("At that point I would have gone to China to get away from it all"), Dumbo, though nearly finished, was no ray of light on his horizon.

He and his staff returned with ideas for six shorts (now in production) designed to acquaint the U.S. with its southern neighbors by using Donald Duck and other old Disney standbys in the role of fall guys.

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