Dumbo is the adorable tale of a little elephants triumph over adversity. The fourth animated Disney movie was made for several reasons. The biggest reason was money. After the financial disaster of Fantasia, Walt Disney needed something as simple as possible to recoup those losses. Dumbo is based on a children’s book appropriately named Dumbo, the Flying Elephant. Apart from a few character changes, hardly anything was changed from the book.
Dumbo was intended to be a short film, but it was stretched into a feature film instead. Albeit an extremely short feature film. At a meager 1 hour & 4 minutes, Dumbo is one of the shortest movies Disney has ever made. All for the sake of saving money. It’s also the reason why the animation is so simplistic. Not that it kept Dumbo from being a big success for Disney. Even winning an Oscar for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. Needless to say, Dumbo took off in a big way…
Dumbo was probably one of Disney’s easier viewing experiences as a kid. I never owned it on VHS, but I did watch it whenever I could. I say easy, but Dumbo does have some of the most outdated material out of any animated Disney film. It may even be second only to Song of the South, but I wouldn’t go that far. Dumbo is far too beloved to be locked away forever. The rest of the story is colorful, cute, and inspiring. It all begins with a stork. Right away you can see just how cartoony the movie is gonna be. With anthropomorphic talking trains, stork delivery, and cartoon physics. Disney was very strict on limiting any and all costly animation effects used in previous movies.
One stork delivers to a circus an adorable baby elephant to a caring mother-to-be named Mrs. Jumbo. She names her son Jumbo Jr. at first, but his unusually big ears earns him the nickname Dumbo. Dumbo is the only silent character ever to headline a Disney movie. Much like Pinocchio, there are several very unlikable antagonists that cruelly mock, bully, and ridicule poor Dumbo. There’s the nasty elephant ladies that give him the mean nickname, the rotten punk kid who mocks Dumbo’s ears (I always hated him the most), and the clueless circus clowns that put Dumbo in the show only to make fun of him. The Ringmaster is technically the main antagonist, but he’s just a greedy businessman.
In a clever bit of irony, Dumbo’s only true friend is Timothy Q. Mouse. He encourages and keeps Dumbo company when his mother is sadly locked away. Like I said before, Dumbo has a lot of outdated material that was common during the early 40’s. Early on we see a faceless crew of black men singing about how they never learned to read or write. Then there’s the far more memorable scene of Dumbo and Timothy accidentally getting drunk. They hallucinate a herd of terrifying pink elephants that come out of nowhere, but leave an impression. Like the next controversial scene, it would be impossible to edit out without confusing people.
Dumbo somehow ends up in a tree where a murder of crows greets him and Timothy. They’re obviously racist caricatures (one is even named Jim Crow), but they’re just too important to the story. They sing the catchiest song and put the idea of flying into the elephant’s head. After an entire hour Dumbo finally flies in the last 4 minutes of the movie. The songs really help to flesh out the simple story even more. “Baby Mine” is a tearjerker for anyone who loves their mother. “Pink Elephants on Parade” is just weird enough to work. While “When I See an Elephant Fly” is still fun to sing-along to despite its reputation. If you look past that, you’ll find Dumbo to be one of Disney’s most inspiring animated outings.