"Dumbo" (1941)

Rating: G
Genre: Animation, Kids & Family
Directed By: Sam Armstrong, Jack Kinney, Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Bill Roberts, Ben Sharpsteen, Samuel Armstrong
Written By: Joe Grant, Dick Huemer, Joe Rinaldi, Webb Smith, Otto Englander, Aurelius Battaglia, Bill Peet
In Theatres: Oct 23rd, 1941 
Runtime: 64 minutes
Studio: Walt Disney Productions

A young circus elephant is born with comically large ears and given the cruel nickname Dumbo. One day at a show, he is taunted by a group of kids, inciting his mother into a rage that gets her locked up. After Dumbo's ears cause an accident that injures many of the other elephants, he is made to dress like a clown and perform dangerous stunts. Everything changes when Dumbo discovers that his enormous ears actually allow him to fly, and he astounds everyone at the circus with his new talent.

Oh, my Lord… I was putting from me (actually I’d been putting from me for years) watching this film because, whether I’d heard about it from hear-say or read it somewhere, I got it into my head that it was going to be very sad. But I decided today that I needed to strap on a pair because this is a classic that I’ve heard so much about and realised I actually didn’t know much to do of the story at all. Being a fan of Disney movies, I decided this wasn’t going to do at all. Well. I can tell you, it is very sad. Children, hell adults, were not equipped to deal with this. 

The opening in which Storks are delivering the new babies to the animals is so cute. But then what we are to assume is eventually Dumbo’s mother, looks out at all the little bundles being dropped from the sky, so disheartened that none of them were dropped next to her. Her face – I know it’s a cartoon and everything, but…her face. This conclusion to the scene aside, the whole sequence is so incredibly cute. I’ve never understood where the notion of the stork bringing babies ever came from. As innocent as it is, surely it raises more questions than it answers?! In any case, it made for such a sweet moment as all the animals looked into their bundles with delight and surprise, welcoming their new offspring.

In the sequence that followed bright colour took over the screen. I feel like you can make the whole situation as colourful and decorative as you like, but, well, it’s not going to diminish what actually takes place in this film. The scene when Dumbo’s mother is being tied up and whipped I’m assuming even though it’s off screen but we do see the whip going up and down, upon the discovery of Dumbo and his ears by the owners of the circus – that’s brutal, especially for children. I think. That scrawny ginger-haired bastard in the circus ought to have got a slap amidst the furore. However, Dumbo’s mother is also a sassy enough elephant which is why we love her and able to stand up for herself – evident in a previous scene when she humorously silenced the gossiping elephants upon Dumbo’s arrival. I laughed at this. Still… 

And speaking of those gossiping elephants – they are grown women! Grown adult women who shun the baby Dumbo simply because his ears are larger than what they considered “normal” – it was exasperating to watch. 

The whole circus setting and everything about it, from the performances in which Dumbo was made a clown, to the ring master and other humans’ ignorance, is all exasperating to watch. Much of it was cruel. Fictional cartoon or not. Particularly when those bloody clowns were concerned. I hoped one of the elephants might sit on them or ringmaster at some point… I mean, very little happiness actually takes place in this film. I was really surprised. Yes, there was Dumbo’s friend, the mouse who brought some brief light-heartedness to his experience in the circus, but it wasn’t really enough. As I said, you can colour it as brightly as you like, Walt Disney, and include all the montages of pink and purple trumpeting elephants as you please, but the fact remains this is a very dismal film for anyone to be watching. I don’t know how children coped watching this. I’m an adult (so I’m told) and I could barely handle it. 

Maybe I’m being too hard on the film. The moment we found out Dumbo could fly brought a little happiness to the proceedings. I’m making it out to be all doom and gloom and while it is for the majority, after all we don’t find this out until near the end – actually even the crows Dumbo and his mouse pal encountered during this moment, they even made fun of him initially. Good grief, what a film… There’s a chance I might be over sensitive to all of this – it’s just Dumbo reminded me of my own dog at home (he has big ears too because of his breed), with whom I watched the film, and, well, the idea of anyone making fun of him over anything is something I can’t even imagine. Dumbo was a dote. My dog is a dote. Both had similar characteristics. I’m too sentimental for my own good…

Apparently, however sad it might be, Disney admitted to the audience of the movie’s airing on the Disneyland TV show, that it had a special place in his heart.  I was really interested to learn that Dumbo is Disney’s shortest feature-length movie, coming in at around 64 minutes. Being made during war efforts, the studio was instructed to keep the film as inexpensive as possible. Because of this, backgrounds are less detailed than other Disney movies and the characters’ artwork far simpler. That didn’t stop it being the tear-jerking success that it became though! 

The song “Baby Mine” which is sung while Dumbo’s mother uses her trunk to rock baby Dumbo through the bars of her cage, was nominated for an Academy Award. While it lost to “The Last Time I Saw Paris” from the film ‘Lady Be Good’, Dumbo did win an Oscar for Best Score. 

I made reference to a moment which takes place of pink and purple elephants dancing across the screen playing trumpets in a dream-like sequence. Because the pachyderm hallucinations were the result of an underage drinking imbibing too much champagne, the scene is considered very controversial. While it was passed in the year of 1941, it doesn’t always make the cut when shown on today’s screens, often being replaced by a dream Dumbo has of flying. 

There was apparently a Dumbo II in talks…one heart breaking tale was sufficient if you ask me. But maybe the second could have been more uplifting? In any case it didn’t happen. However, talks of a live-action film being made of the classic surfaced in 2015, and is apparently in the works, scheduled to be released come 2019. I don’t know about that… The cartoon version was almost too much… There was a live-action version named “Dumbo’s Circus”, made in the 1980s which aired on the Disney Channel. While Dumbo doesn’t actually utter a word throughout the original film, he apparently had a lot to say in this one…

Like many Disney movies, this too started off as a book. Dumbo the Flying Elephant, written by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, started out as a 36-page "Roll-A-Book." The "book" was a series of illustrations on a scroll, and readers would turn a little wheel at the top of the "book" to read the next panel. Pretty cool, right? 

Well, now at least I can say I’ve seen the classic that is Dumbo. For other sensitive souls who are in the small minority who also haven't seen it, or who haven't seen it in a long time and think they might like to – tissues are needed. And maybe don’t watch it with your pets like I did…