Release Date: October 23rd, 1941 (released October 31st nationally)
Inspiration: “Dumbo the Flying Elephant” by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl
Domestic Gross: $1.3 million
Worldwide Gross: $1.3 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
IMDB Score: 7.2/10
Storyline (per IMDB): The stork delivers a baby elephant to Mrs. Jumbo, veteran of the circus, but the newborn is ridiculed because of his truly enormous ears and dubbed “Dumbo”. After being separated from his mother, Dumbo is relegated to the circus’ clown acts; it is up to his only friend, a mouse, to assist Dumbo to achieve his full potential.
Pre-Watching Thoughts: We move on now to the fourth film in the Disney canon which is another film that I might have seen only once or twice, and have not seen in quite a long time aside from the live action remake from earlier in the year. I always remember liking the film when I watched it, but again like I said it has been a long time since I last saw it so I will be looking at this with a pair of fresh eyes. This is another one that has been beloved for so long and after Fantasia being a bit of a disappointment, I’m hoping that Dumbo can turn things around after a strong start from Snow White and Pinocchio.
Voice Cast: So for the third film in a row not counting Fantasia obviously, we have a silent character in the film though unlike Snow White and Pinocchio where the silent character was a minor character, here the main character is silent. It seems like an interesting choice to have the main character not speak at all, but it does make some sense since he is supposed to be a baby. As for the main voice cast, we have Edward Brophy playing Timothy Q. Mouse which was interesting since he was known for playing gangsters in film, and while he wouldn’t appear in any other animated films he makes the most of this opportunity. We see a return here as Cliff Edwards comes back to voice Dandy Crow (formerly known as Jim Crow before being changed for obvious reasons), and it was interesting hearing the voice of Jiminy Cricket play this crow. We also see two future Disney stalwarts debut here as Verna Felton plays the elephant matriarch while also providing the voice for Mrs. Jumbo, and Sterling Holloway plays the stork that delivers Dumbo. Finally, we have Herman Bing who plays the Ringmaster and we have other minor actors that provide little dialogue, and while many of the characters don’t have many lines they do provide memorable moments.
Hero/Prince: This is an interesting category for this film as we definitely don’t have a prince here, but in some circles you can see Dumbo as the hero of the film. He is ostracized for having large ears and is shunned by his fellow elephants, and after a mishap he is demoted to being a clown and is the laughingstock of the circus while his mother is locked up when she tries to protect him from bullies who go after him. With the help of Timothy, he is able to discover that he can use his ears to fly and he becomes a national sensation which leads to his mother being freed and he becomes the star. It is a very basic story of the underdog overcoming the odds and Dumbo is easy to root for because you want him to succeed which he does in the end.
Villain: This is another interesting case in that we don’t have a real defined villain for this film and while there are those like the elephants that are mean to Dumbo, they never do anything to actually hurt him aside from disowning him as an elephant. The main person that is considered a villain at least in Disney’s eyes is the Ringmaster, who is portrayed as a greedy, arrogant man though he does appear to be genuine in wanting his circus to succeed. He is seemingly unsympathetic to Dumbo when he locks up his mother and then turns him into a clown, but after Dumbo shows he can fly he quickly changes his ways and makes Dumbo the star of his circus. So because he is not completely evil and ends up having a change of heart by the end of the film, he will rank very low on the list of Disney villains.
Other Characters: Dumbo is an interesting film in that we have a whole circus of animals, but we don’t interact with most of them aside from seeing them in a few random appearances. One example of that are the flock of storks that deliver all the babies aside from the final stork that delivers Dumbo, and he may seem like a slacker but he does take his job seriously. We then have the group of elephants who shun Dumbo because of his ears and eventually disown him as an elephant, but they change their ways when they see Dumbo fly and they finally accept him. Of course, we have Timothy Q. Mouse who takes a liking to Dumbo despite him being an elephant and he becomes Dumbo’s guiding light, and it is interesting seeing a mouse help an elephant given the common trope that elephants are scared of mice as Timothy and Dumbo become best friends. Finally, we have the crows at the end of at first laugh at the idea of an elephant flying until they learn of Dumbo’s plights and they quickly become his friends, but these crows have been subject to controversy as many thought they were a stereotype of African Americans. Considering that these characters would have to carry the dialogue given that the main character doesn’t speak at all, they do a good job and help carry the film and its plot.
Songs: After Fantasia which had various orchestral songs, we come back to normal here as Dumbo features a number of songs with a few of them that are still pretty memorable to this day. We start off with “Look Out for Mr. Stork” and “Casey Junior” which were pretty short and sweet, and then we had the “Song of the Roustabouts” that is performed as everyone is building the circus which is fitting since it feels like a song to play while you work. We then had the trifecta of memorable songs the film is remembered for starting off with Mrs. Jumbo’s ballad “Baby Mine”, which is a nice song to hear as she talks about her love for Dumbo. We then have the iconic “Pink Elephants on Parade” which is not so much about the song, but rather the animated sequence that accompanies it which is very memorable. Finally, we have the crows singing “When I See An Elephant Fly” which starts as a mocking song, but then turns around when they help Dumbo learn how to fly. While the last three songs are the main songs remembered from this film, all of the songs are fitting for the film and the theming of the circus atmosphere.
Plot: So the plot of Dumbo is in of itself pretty basic as Dumbo is shunned by everyone for his ears, and with the help of Timothy he is able to overcome the odds and becomes a star because of his ears and his ability to fly. He has a lot of negativity thrown his way from the elephants who disown him and turn their backs on him, to the Ringmaster who feels Dumbo is only good for being a clown while also throwing his mother into a cage when she tried to protect him. Dumbo is a very easy character to sympathize with because of his plights and you are rooting for him to overcome the odds, and he is the perfect example of the lovable underdog who comes out on top in the end. Again while the plot might seem pretty basic on the surface, sometimes those are the best ones as you want to see Dumbo succeed in the end and when he does it is a great moment to see and that is why the film is pretty memorable.
Random Watching Thoughts: Always very nostalgic seeing the RKO Radio Pictures logo in these early films; Only with Disney can the stork get his own theme song; That’s a pretty detailed map of Florida; Thinking ahead of the short where the clouds create babies out of clouds, I wonder if these storks came from those clouds and these baby animals were made from those clouds; How do the storks know what animals are expecting and how did they forget about Mrs. Jumbo?; I honestly don’t remember if I ever went to the circus though part of me thinks I did when I was a kid; Even the train has his own theme song; Of course Mrs. Jumbo’s baby is delivered by the stork that always looks like he’s running late, though in his defense having to carry Dumbo must be a burden; This stork really takes his job seriously with how long he takes to deliver this baby; Honestly, how could you not fall in love with Dumbo?; That quartet of elephants are the 1940s equivalent of the Plastics for you Mean Girls fans; Casey Jr. must’ve been inspired by the “Little Engine that Could” because he goes “I think I can” when he climbs up the hill and “I thought I could” when he goes down; Is it considered cruelty towards animals by having them help assemble the circus, especially in a thunderstorm?; Since when did a circus have their own parade because I don’t remember that; Ironic that a kid with big ears himself is making fun of the elephant with big ears; It’s hard to tell if Dumbo was actually having fun or if he doesn’t know better since Mrs. Jumbo tried to take him away; Can you blame Mrs. Jumbo for going after the kid when he was pulling at her baby’s ears, and yet the Ringmaster calls her mad and has her chained down which was way too excessive; Poor Dumbo just had his mother caged up and the other elephants basically say it’s his fault; Props to Timothy for seeing Dumbo as just a normal elephant and you can’t say the elephants didn’t have it coming when he scared them; Those are either the lightest elephants in the world or the strongest poles and ropes ever to hold them up; I love how Timothy tries to use the peanut to draw Dumbo out of the haystack not realizing that he can just use his trunk to suck the peanut away; Timothy could’ve easily been a great personal motivator; What was the Ringmaster drinking or smoking when he came up with the idea of having a pyramid of elephants?; I love Timothy sneaking around towards the Ringmaster’s tent trying to make sure no one see him when he’s so small he could barely been seen in daylight; It would be funny if this scene of Timothy whispering to the Ringmaster was the inspiration for those subminimal motivation tapes; So he originally wanted a pyramid of 17 elephants, but realizes that because he only has 7 he has to make do; That is the strongest ball in the world to be able to hold all those elephants; You have to wonder if they thought this could actually work given how high the pyramid was which means Dumbo would’ve had to have gotten a giant jump off the springboard to reach the top; I can’t believe they lasted on the ball as long as they did after Dumbo accidentally hit it; I wonder if there have been any real life cases of a big top collapsing from some sort of freak accident; I never noticed this before, but the one elephant is using a steak as an eyepatch; I love how the clowns just willingly put Dumbo on top of a burning building even though they know he’s still a baby; It’s a good thing those clowns aren’t real firefighters because they would absolutely suck at their job; I love the clowns celebrating their act going over really well this time because it obviously means they sucked the previous times; It is pretty sad hearing Mrs. Jumbo sing “Baby Mine” while being confined and not able to see Dumbo; I wonder if the one clown actually thinks elephants are made of rubber or he just said it because he’s drunk; I never knew that crying would lead to getting the hiccups; That must be some strong champagne or Dumbo is a real lightweight since he doesn’t seem to drink that much and yet gets drunk; Considering the controversy we will see in just a little bit, I’m surprised there wasn’t any backlash with showing Dumbo and Timothy getting drunk; The “Pink Elephants on Parade” scene looks like something that would’ve been made in the 1970s and not the 1940s, and if it was the 70s Dumbo and Timothy would be on an acid trip and not drunk on champagne; That’s a pretty tall tree for Dumbo to have flown up into especially if he was drunk; I am glad that they kept the crows in the film considering how many think them to be racist, but honestly it’s not that bad considering other things that have been depicted in films that are far worse than this; It’s hard not to get into when the crows sing “When I See An Elephant Fly”; It is funny how the crows tease Dumbo until they find out about what happened to him and his mother which leads them to change their ways rather quickly; Of all the things to use to help Dumbo fly, they pick one little feather from one of the crows; How freaking high did they make that building because the tent didn’t look that big from the outside; I love how Timothy tells him that the feather was just a gag when Dumbo only used it once; Of all the things Dumbo could’ve done to the elephants, he just shoots peanuts at them; $1 million is a lot of money to be insured to Dumbo’s ears; I forgot how short this movie is as I was getting into it, but then it ends rather abruptly.
Overall Thoughts: Overall, Dumbo ended up being a pretty good film that was significantly better than Fantasia, but to me it didn’t quite make it to the same level as Snow White and Pinocchio. This was an interesting time for Disney as they were coming off the financial disappointment of Fantasia and there was also an animator’s strike that took place during the making of the film, but Disney was able to survive it and Dumbo was a pretty successful film though its small budget was a major help as well. The world was in a state of shambles as well with World War II having broken out and we were two months away from what would be the attack on Pearl Harbor, so the next few years were going to be a tumultuous time for Disney and the USA as a whole. We will see how the next few films can do and if they can keep Disney alive during the war, and as for Dumbo it is a good film that still stands up to this day as a feel good film and a fun time for families.
Final Grade: 7.5/10