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'Dumbo': Flying circles above the crowd in high-def

Any 20th-century animator working in film who chose to ignore what was coming out of the Walt Disney studios did so at a professional cost. And from 1941 on, Disney's "Dumbo" was the elephant in the room.

This week it joins "Snow White," "Pinocchio," "Fantasia" and "Bambi" in the pantheon of early Disney animated classics remastered for high-definition as the "Dumbo" 70th Anniversary Edition (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated G, DVD $29.99; two-disc Blu-ray Combo Pack $39.99).

While the other four above-named features from Disney's "golden age" are heralded for their artistry and technical innovations, "Dumbo" was quietly preferred by many viewers for its distilled simplicity, exuberant spirits and its irresistible plunk-plunk-plunkings on the old heart strings.

This is, after all, the story of a mother's bond with her misfit child — a baby elephant with oversized ears, who gets kicked around and ridiculed until he learns the advantage of "owning" one's differences.

"Bambi" and "Pinocchio" were more studied in their art and technical effects, to be sure. But "Dumbo" had a populist pedigree springing out of the bold and colorful motifs of circus life and the pared-to-essences caricatures of Disney's "Silly Symphony" shorts.

These masterful graphics are all the more striking now in their restored purity, thanks to today's high-def wizards. The Technicolor hues absolutely leap from the screen with a near three-dimensional presence — no special glasses required! The enhanced resolution is complemented by an age-defying stereo soundtrack newly mixed in "lossless" 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.

These improvements more than offset the loss of film grain, in my opinion, and the new DVD is worth the upgrade for those with an earlier video edition. It also comes with a host of special features, including a thorough "making of" documentary, a never-released deleted scene and song, and a charming look at the continued popularity of the Dumbo ride atDisneyland.

If you have a Blu-ray player, the combo pack is the way to go, offering the full high-def picture and sound plus the above extras, a DVD for ultimate adaptability, added cartoon shorts, two interactive games, and an exclusive "picture-in-picture" guided tour through the entire film by Disney insiders. It also includes the "Disney View" option of storybook screen borders designed for widescreen monitors.

A Disney four-header

Besides "Dumbo," the folks at Disney have dumped four other new titles into parents' laps in recent days. Available separately, the four releases still amount to a barrage on the family budget, so here's the score card, from titles intended for the very youngest among us to those designed for the less-youngest:

"Spooky Buddies" (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated G, DVD $29.99; Blu-ray Combo $39.99). The latest direct-to-DVD entry in the best-selling talking puppy litter, this one comes house-trained for the Halloween season. Again as in "Air Buddies," "Snow Buddies," "Space Buddies" and the rest, the quintet of adorable pups is always eager to help. This time they are on the trail of a scary warlock, following him into his haunted lair in order to nip his plans for world destruction "in the bud." Small fry won't get all the puns and references to pop culture, but they will enjoy the good-natured antics, and parents can take heart in the examples of good citizenship and teamwork that the pups set. A new video take on the "Monster Mash" and an interactive game are among the baby sitter extras.

"Bambi II" Special Edition (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated G, DVD $29.99; Blu-ray Combo $39.99). Speaking of "Bambi": It took the Disney folks some 64 years to come up with a sequel, of sorts, to the original classic. Some of the background work and the character animation is equal to the task, but the story for this direct-to-video release never amounts to more than your standard father-son drama with a romantic rivalry subplot tossed in. Cute, but no king of the forest.

"Prom" (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG, DVD $29.99; Blu-ray Combo $39.99). Hasn't "High School Musical" been here before? Anyway, the big end-of-school dance is coming, see, and when the plans for it by overachiever Nova Prescott (Aimee Teegarden) go down the drain, she must hop to work on an alternate vision with the help of an anti-social underachiever (Thomas McDonnell). Meanwhile, other students have all the usual problems with lining up dates, deciding on clothes, juggling career ambitions — you know? Of course you do. Leave this for the ones who haven't been there yet.

"The Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D" (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG, three-disc Blu-ray 3-D Super Set $49.99). You really don't need a 3-D monitor to have Tim Burton's animated oddball operetta leaping off the screen at you. The colors and graphic designs are so striking they take over any viewing room they enter, especially in this remastered Blu-ray edition. This four-disc combo pack has a lenticular cover and includes a spectacular Blu-ray version, a standard DVD, a digital Copy, and, oh yes, a high-def 3-D Blu-ray, just in case you decide to upgrade in the future. Extensive extras include a running commentary by Burton and composer Danny Elfman, the short films "Vincent" and "Frankenweenie," and much more.

Also new and notable

"Bridesmaids" (Universal Studios Home Video, not rated/R, DVD $29.98; Blu-ray Disc $34.98). Raunchy and embarrassing (especially in mixed company), this gutter-mouthed comedy is also funny at times. Kristen Wiig of "Saturday Night Live" stars and co-wrote the script, which is why it has a late-night comic's dysfunctional view of relationships. The good themes about friendship and loyalty are undercut by Wiig's toxic take on female rivalry. Her character comes unhinged when her lifelong friend (Maya Rudolph) announces her engagement and brings a too-perfect new female acquaintance into the inner circle. If you like graphic depictions of what used to be called human intimacy and think nothing is funnier than explosive diarrhea, this one's for you. The new DVD includes both the theatrical cut and an unrated version with deleted footage. The cast joins director Paul Feig on a commentary track that pretty much excludes us from the fun, but it does explain why the film's setting is so jarring: Some of the exteriors were shot in Milwaukee and others in Chicago. Chi-waukee, anyone?

"Scooby-Doo! Legend of the Phantosaur" (Warner Home Video, not rated/G, DVD $19.98; Blu-ray Combo $24.98). Just when you thought Shaggy and the gang had seen it all, up pops the ghost of a dinosaur to scare them away from finding the secret hideaway of a desert treasure. This full-length original movie is perfect for pre-pubescent sleuths with its playful sense of adventure and cartoon high jinks. Bonus features on the Blu-ray include a tour of the Los Angeles Natural History Museum.

"Tom and Jerry &The Wizard of Oz" (Warner Home Video, not rated/G, DVD $19.98; Blu-ray Disc $24.98). This all-new "original" movie has our favorite cartoon cat and mouse whisked off to the land of Oz, where they meet cartoon versions of the L. Frank Baum characters, battle flying monkeys and a wicked witch, and even revisit some favorite songs like "Over the Rainbow." There's nothing unique about the animation style but it is professionally handled.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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