I realized as I was typing it that technically this isn’t the oldest Disney movie I own. I have Fantasia, but I bought it in a double pack with Fantasia 2000. Therefore I have made my own executive decision to review those two back to back whenever I get to them (that should be interesting…). Now onto Dumbo.
Ah, the story of the little elephant with big ears who learns how to fly. I have to say, it’s amazing how much of this movie I seemed to block out of my memory as a kid. What does that tell you? haha. It could tell you a lot. Maybe it scarred me. Maybe I found it boring. This was never my favorite, nor is it now after watching it again. Personally, it’s very far down on my list; probably my least favorite Disney movie I own. That being said, I’m going to try my best and give this a sort of impartial review. I’m going to REALLY try…
So Dumbo is about a little elephant that lives at Casey Jr.’s circus. We see him get delivered by a stork to his mother, Mrs. Jumbo. But something’s different about this little elephant. Dumbo has HUGE ears. He’s automatically the laughing stock of not only the other elephants, but the patrons of the circus as well. Kids begin making fun of him, pulling his ears. This makes Mrs. Jumbo go all mother bear aggressive protecting her baby, which gets her tied down and labeled “mad elephant,” pulling her away from Dumbo. After the other elephants refuse to talk to him, he befriends a circus mouse named Timothy, who becomes a friend and mentor. After a nixed stunt goes awry, Casey Jr. turns him into a clown, which is belittling but goes over well with audiences. After a night of celebrating (ohhhh pink elephants…), Timothy and Dumbo wake up in a tree with some crows, who help him learn how to fly with the help of a “magic” feather. At his next clown show, he shows the whole circus up by flying instead of falling (after learning the magic feather isn’t really magic… he could do it all along!). He becomes respected for his flaw and reunites with his mother. The end.
This movie clocks in at a mere hour and three minutes, making it the shortest disney movie in the canon (other than the anthology of shorts…). This was originally going to be a short, but Walt wanted to expand it a bit more and made it into a feature film on its own. I think this was a good call. As a short, it would have been rushed. Honestly? it could have been longer. For a movie that’s about a flying elephant, he really only learns he can fly in the last 10 minutes. It would have been nicer if we got a little bit more of him practicing or with the magic feather, or a little bit more build up when he loses the feather.
The characters are a bit bland. I do find it nice and a bit refreshing that Dumbo doesn’t talk at all. We still get that he’s a picked on little guy and he really needs someone to help him because he doesn’t know how to deal with it and he’s helpless. Honestly, he and Timothy are really the only characters (besides the mother) that you get to know. Timothy is great. He’s a breath of fresh air in the circus that seems to hate Dumbo, being the only one that seems tolerant and blind to the fact that the elephant has big ears. He even remarks “I think they’re cute!” He’s the friend we wish we all had growing up. He instills us with confidence and wants nothing but to help us. He’s a bit like jiminy cricket in Pinocchio, but Dumbo is a bit more… blah… as opposed to Pinocchio.
The mother Mrs. Jumbo is obviously very loving, and makes it well known that she will do anything to protect her baby. Possibly the saddest scene in the entire movie is between her and dumbo during “baby mine.” Good God. If you don’t understand the connection the two of them share after watching that scene, you’re blind.
My qualms with this movie really come out of the fact that it was made in the 40s. As we all know, our social norms and ideals have changed since the 40s. While a lot of people look back on early Disney movies and claim racism, I tend to be much more forgiving. I instead just go “eh, it was a sign of the times.” We as a species have progressed much. We’re not perfect yet by any stretch, but we have learned. Anyway, it’s mainly the abuse shown by the circus folk towards the animals that I don’t like watching. It’s actually hard for me to watch the scene where Mrs. Jumbo is getting tied down after attacking the children.
Believe what you want about the crows. I have no problems with them. Again, back then, almost everyone thought that was an acceptable way to depict them. As kids, we don’t make these connections that “oh, the crows are a vulgar racist depiction of black people.” Instead, as a kid we go “oh look at those crows! that one’s wearing glasses!” As kids, we don’t make these connections unless someone points them out for us. Just because kids laugh at the crows singing “when I see an elephant fly” doesn’t mean they’re racist. I think *most of the time* it’s pointless to argue about racist things in Disney movies. Kids don’t get the connections. It doesn’t mean they’re going to carry those beliefs with them their entire life.
That being said, I do understand that NOW it’s offensive. Obviously if I movie depicted crows in that way, we’d all flip out. That’s understandable. Because it’s wrong. But at the same time, we as people have to understand that things change, and back then, it was acceptable with the general populace. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m saying it’s a bit more forgivable, and that in a KIDS movie, unless they come right out and say “oh, we’re crows, and we’re meant to be a crude interpretation of black people,” we shouldn’t get irrationally upset. Kids don’t understand what adults do. They have no prejudices unless adults put them there. I know I didn’t. And as an adult now, I look at those crows and go “wow, they’re hilarious and helpful and without them Dumbo wouldn’t have flown.” To me, they’re unique.
I have a feeling I will be reiterating myself a lot during these reviews on this point. I also know i’m one person, and that a lot of people probably feel differently. To each his own. Ah well.
Oh… let’s also talk about how this is one of the only Disney movies where the main character gets drunk. that to me is a lot more offensive than the crows. I know it’s not on purpose, but dear sweet lord, “Pink elephants on parade” is something that I know I pulled out of my memory as a kid. If that doesn’t scar you, I don’t know what will. But again… drinking was much more accepted, and they didn’t worry too much if kids saw it. Therefore we shouldn’t get *too* upset that its in a Disney movie.
Everyone knows Dumbo. It’s a character that has rooted itself into our collective consciousness. There’s a species of Octopus named after it. We call someone a “dumbo.” (sad that it’s not in a good way!) As a movie, it’s a good shorter one for kids, but it’s one that I think you can skip. There are so many other great Disney movies out there to take its place. That being said, Dumbo and Timothy are likable. I think I would have liked this movie better if it had been longer and we had had a bit more character development and story development.
Disney Message: Even if you have something that doesn’t make you “normal,” it makes you unique. Learn to love yourself and embrace the flaws everyone else seems to think you have.
I give Dumbo (1941) a 2.8 out of 5.
Up next: Bambi (1942)