Dumbo (1941)

Synopsis:

A circus baby elephant with overly large ears is bullied by fellow pachyderms who cruelly nickname him “Dumbo.” The circus manager decides to use Dumbo in the clown show, but that idea fails miserably. With the help of an ingenious and kind-hearted mouse, Timothy Q. Mouse, Dumbo finds his true calling.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Did you ever see an elephant fly?”

This animated feature about an elephant with big ears is quite possibly Walt Disney’s finest 64 minutes — it’s brilliant and it has a big heart. I’ve seen it numerous times and it never fails to touch my heart. I don’t know why, but it just makes me very emotional. Dumbo also makes me smile like no other Disney film. There is something absolutely irresistible about this animated movie.

I’m not going to pretend to be objective; it’s one of my favorite Disney animated movies. I love everything about the movie. Dumbo has a timeless message about turning your weaknesses into strengths — no other Disney production has a timelier theme, and it enlightens us without any preaching.

Dumbo is pure Disney magic. Most of the company’s animated classics are based on popular fairy tales or well-regarded books, but Dumbo was adapted from a short story written by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl. Under Uncle Walt’s supervision, writers Otto Englander, Joe Grant and Dick Huemer expanded the story and the rest is history. All the film’s best moments are the product of the hard work of Disney and his team.

The climax is very affecting and exciting. I always get butterflies in my stomach when I see Dumbo fly for the first time. And it all ends on a positive note. No cheap sentiment here — the happy ending is earned.

Though it is one of Disney’s shortest features, Dumbo is packed with goodies. The musical numbers are particularly great. I have such a hard time picking a favorite moment. The lovely lullaby “Baby Mine” (music by Frank Churchill, lyrics by Ned Washington, vocals by Betty Noyes) received an Oscar nomination, but the “Pink Elephants on Parade” number (directed by Norman Ferguson and written by Oliver Wallace and Ned Washington, with vocals by Mel Blanc) is an unbeatable combination of music and animation — the psychedelic sequence is absolutely brilliant.

The songs “Look Out for Mr. Stork,” “Song of the Roustabouts” and “When I See an Elephant Fly” are pretty great too. The beautiful incidental music was composed by Churchill and Oliver Wallace.

There is only one thing that prevents it from being perfect. Time has created some unintended problems. The film resorts to some hurtful racial stereotypes — the black scarecrows are a sad reminder of the Jim Crow era. But that’s something I’ve learned to live with — plus I don’t like to apply modern sensibilities to older movies. The fact that the birds are among the kindest characters in the film does help.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Dumbo is more than a great animated film — it’s an American classic. There isn’t a single dull moment in the entire film. It’s a great movie for kids — it touches upon serious, relatable issues in ways that kids can understand. Narrated by John McLeish. Highly recommended! Color, 64 minutes, Rated G.

10 responses to “Dumbo (1941)

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