Dumbo (1941)

Posted by on Dec 19, 2011 in Fun With Animals | 0 comments

Dumbo1

Disclaimer: Despite its message against segregation, there’s a pretty blatantly racist song. Plus there’s an alcohol-inspired sequence that’s quite the acid trip.

For a movie in which the main character never speaks a line of dialogue and that lasts only one hour, Dumbo remains one of Disney’s most beloved creations. Disney’s fourth feature-length installment was based on the brief and relatively unknown Helen Aberson book. As the simple story goes, a stork brings baby Jumbo Jr. to circus elephant Mrs. Jumbo. However, when the cute blue-eyed baby sneezes, it reveals his abnormally large ears (perhaps a feature Walt Disney himself can easily relate to). Quickly, the sewing circle-like lady elephants at the circus ridicule the youngster and coin him Dumbo.

As elephants, the ladies say their Dumbo2race carries dignity and Dumbo’s looks and clumsiness make him a shameful disgrace. Eventually, they vote him out of elephanthood. (Apparently his cute squeaks and trumpets get him no bonus points.) When the circus barkers boast “The Greatest Congress of Freaks Ever Assembled,” kids come and abuse Dumbo, which forces Mrs. Jumbo to act in a fit of rage. From then on, the circus bans her to solitary confinement. With practically no hope in sight for the outcast, a mouse named Timothy comes to Dumbo’s rescue and vows to guide him to success (much like Jiminy Cricket).

While the film mostly acts as an endearing tearjerker, it carries with it plenty of humorous moments and some wonderful musical sequences. The most memorable and famous of all the tunes is the champagne-inspired Pink Elephants hallucination that seems to have either come straight out of Fantasia or a nightmare by Hunter S. Thompson. It’s certainly scary, as the creepy elephants resemble Nightmare Before Christmas villain Oogie Boogie. The other musical sequences worth mentioning are the scarecrow blues tune When I See an Elephant Fly and the touching lullaby Baby Mine.

The only truly disturbing element in the film is a scene in which faceless black workers slave away to set up the circus tents while singing, “We work all day / we work all night / we never learned to read or write / we’re happy-hearted roustabouts.” For a film with a progressive attitude in terms of segregation, they sure dropped the ball on that one. (Unless they’re going for the same revisionist attitude presented five years later in Song of the South, in which they posit that “slave” was just another word for happy-go-lucky plantation workers.)

Following the seminal works of Fantasia, Pinocchio, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Dumbo’s simple watercolor animation and story is often forgotten or lost in the mix. Nonetheless, Dumbo is a lovely film the younger kids will certainly enjoy, if only to embrace and cheer on the wonderful little outcast.

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