Walt Disney Presents: Dumbo (1941)



A circus baby elephant with overly large ears is bullied by fellow pachyderms who cruelly nickname him “Dumbo.” The little elephant’s mother tries to protect her offspring to no avail. The circus manager decide 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:

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 irresistible about this simple movie.

I’m not going to pretend to be objective; it is my favorite Disney animated movie. I love everything about it. Dumbo has a timeless message about turning your weaknesses into strengths. No other Disney production has a timelier theme. And it enlights 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 small thin story written by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl. Under Walt Disney’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.

Though it is one of Disney’s shortest features, the Dumbo is packed with goodies. I have such a hard time picking a favorite moment. “Baby Mine” got an Oscar nomination and it is indeed a lovely lullaby, but the “Pink Elephants on Parade” number is an unbeatable combination of music and animation. The psychedelic sequence is absolutely brilliant. “Look Out for Mr. Stork,” “Song of the Roustabouts” and “When I See an Elephant Fly” are pretty great too. The incidental music was composed by Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace.

The climax is very 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.

There is only one thing that prevents it from being totally perfect. Time has created some unintended problems. The black scarecrows are a sad reminder of the Jim Crow era. But that’s something I’ve learned to live with. The fact that the birds are among the kindest characters in the film does help erase some negative feelings.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Dumbo is more than a great animated film — it’s a an American classic. Narrated by John McLeish. Color, 64 minutes, Rated G.


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