A LOOK BACK: Dumbo
Continuing our viewing of the Disney animated classics in chronological order, we've come to Disney's 4th film Dumbo.
Dumbo is the story of a baby elephant who happens to be born with abnormally large ears. The other elephants make fun of him and ostracize him. Because he looks funny, they give him the name "Dumbo." One day, some kids tease Dumbo and his mother, Mrs. Jumbo, gets mad and spanks one of them. The Ringmaster, though, calls Mrs. Jumbo mad and has her locked up.
Poor Dumbo is depressed and meets Timothy Mouse who tries to help him out of his funk. He takes Dumbo to see his mom, leading to a tender moment. But, Dumbo cries some more. Timothy leads him to a pail of water which happens to be spiked with champagne by the clowns. The two end up having a hazed filled evening and, in the morning, end up in a tree near some crows. They try to figure out how they got up there and realize that Dumbo must have flown up there with his big ears. With the help of a crow feather, Timothy persuades Dumbo to fly again and he does!
Timothy tells Dumbo he should do an act where he flies. When he's held up top in the clown act, he would fly down to the bottom. But, on the way down, he loses his feather and starts to panic. Timothy tells him that the feather wasn't actually helping him fly and, suddenly, Dumbo soars above the crowd to the audience's amazement. And, ever since then, Dumbo and his mother were treated as royalty.
I wrote this in my review of the live action remake of Dumbo and I still believe it to be true:
I think Walt Disney's 1941 animated classic Dumbo is one of the best written Disney films in its history.
It's not one that I necessarily watch all the time, but, from beginning to end, there is a compactness and purity to that story that has really never been matched. I might be wrong, but I think it is Disney's shortest film clocking in at just barely over an hour. And, it didn't need to be more than that. It's a sweet movie about an elephant with big ears who learned to believe in himself.
Sometimes, less is more. Ward Kimball once said that Walt Disney approached him in the parking lot about the movie. "And listening to him tell that story," Kimball said, "I could tell that the picture was going to work. Because everything sounded right. It had a great plot."
The only part that bothers me are the crows as stereotypical representations of African Americans. I realize that this is from a different time, but it is the only thing that otherwise mars a perfect film.
Despite the box office flops of Pinocchio and Fantasia, Dumbo proved to be a financial success. During the 1941 Academy Awards, the film won Best Scoring for a Musical Picture and the song "Baby Mine" was nominated for Best Original Song.
I wish Disney would do more movies like this where much of the storytelling of the main character is done in pantomime. We are so accustomed to have everything spelled out these days and it's so refreshing to watch a film like Dumbo every so often to remind us of a more simple time.