The original Dumbo, a story about a little circus elephant with big ears, arrived in theaters in 1941, just prior to the U.S. entry into World War II. The film’s animated cels are considered very rare. In sharp contrast to director Tim Burton’s new iteration of Dumbo, the original had a very limited budget because other Disney animated films – Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi – were racking up huge expenses at the time. The outbreak of World War II also had a chilling effect on the studio. To save money, the studio employed watercolor backgrounds instead of the usual oil and gouache. In addition, only a few characters appeared together on screen at the same time to economize on technical issues. Supervising Director Ben Sharpsteen’s orders were to keep the project simple and inexpensive, while other Disney animated films were much more complex in their design and animation techniques.
Nevertheless, Dumbo is regarded as a masterpiece of its time. It won Best Animation Design at the Cannes Film Festival in 1947 and also an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture, in 1942. The film was added to the U.S. National Film Registry in December 2017.