Walt Disney’s Dumbo is fourth Disney animated feature film. The main character is Jumbo Jr., a semi-anthropomorphic elephant who is cruelly nicknamed “Dumbo”, as in “dumb”. He is ridiculed for his big ears, but in fact he is capable of flying by using his ears as wings. Throughout most of the film, his only true friend, aside from his mother, is the mouse, Timothy – a relationship parodying the stereotypical animosity between mice and elephants.
Dumbo was originally released on October 23, 1941; made solely to recoup the financial losses of Fantasia, it was a deliberate pursuit of simplicity and economy for the Disney studio. At 64 minutes, it is Disney’s shortest animated feature.
In 2017, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
A live-action adaptation of the film directed by Tim Burton was released on March 29, 2019.
Everything you need to know about Dumbo:
Upon the passing of winter, a flock of storks deliver babies to circus animals within the “Winter Quarters” in Florida. All the mothers receive their parcels before departure except the elephant Mrs. Jumbo. During travel, a lost stork brings her an elephant who, to the other elephants’ surprise, is adorned with extraordinarily large ears. He is made an object of ridicule and given the nickname “Dumbo”. Mrs. Jumbo attempts to remain dignified and treats her child with all her maternal love, but when a group of rascals takes to mocking Dumbo, Mrs. Jumbo catches one of them with her trunk and spanks him. The circus ringmaster deems Mrs. Jumbo mad and has her locked in a cage. The lone Dumbo is made a pariah amongst the rest of the circus troupe. A small mouse named Timothy consoles Dumbo and vows to make him a star.
After being secretly encouraged by Timothy, the ringmaster makes Dumbo the top of an elephant pyramid stunt. The performance goes awry as Dumbo trips over his ears and misses his target, causing the other elephants to suffer various injuries, and bring down the big top. Dumbo is made into a clown as a result, to the shame of the other elephants, and plays the main role in an act that involves him falling into a vat of pie filling. Despite his newfound popularity and fame, Dumbo dislikes this job, and is now more miserable than ever. To cheer Dumbo up, Timothy takes him to visit his imprisoned mother. The two are unable to see each other face to face, and can only entwine trunks. On the way back, Dumbo cries and then starts to hiccup, so Timothy takes him for a drink of water from a bucket which, unknown to them, has accidentally had a bottle of champagne spilled into it by the clowns. As a result, Dumbo and Timothy both become drunk and have surreal hallucinations of pink elephants.
The next morning, Dumbo and Timothy are awakened by a group of crows who are surprised to find an elephant sitting on the highest branches of a tree. As the initial astonishment passes, Timothy surmises that Dumbo had managed to achieve flight using his large ears as wings. Timothy persuades Dumbo to use this gift with the support of the crows’ leader, who gives Dumbo one of his feathers and convinces him that it carries magic properties that will allow him to fly. Back at the circus, Timothy proposes to Dumbo that he transform his clown act into a flying performance. As Dumbo unfolds his ears during the plummet, he loses the feather and panics. Timothy quickly confesses that the feather was never magical, and that he is still able to fly. Dumbo is able to pull out of the dive and flies around the circus, finally striking back at his tormentors as a stunned audience looks on in amazement. After this performance, Dumbo becomes a media sensation, Timothy becomes his manager, and Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo are given a private car on the circus train.
In 1968, writer Richard Schickel, in his book The Disney Version, proposed that the crow characters in the film were African American stereotypes. The leader crow, played by Cliff Edwards, was originally named “Jim Crow” for script purposes. However, all of the other crows were voiced by African-American actors, who were all members of the popular all-black Hall Johnson Choir. Despite suggestions by writers such as Schickel who have criticized the portrayal as racist, other writers have rejected these claims. Defenders note that the crows form the majority of the characters in the movie who are sympathetic to Dumbo’s plight, that they are free spirits who bow to no one, and that they are intelligent characters aware of the power of self-confidence, unlike the Stepin Fetchit stereotype common in the previous decade. Furthermore, the crows’ song “When I See An Elephant Fly”, which uses intricate wordplay in the lyrics, is oriented more toward mocking Timothy Mouse than Dumbo’s large ears.
In July 2017, after being inaugurated as a Disney Legend, Whoopi Goldberg expressed a desire for the crow characters to be merchandised by Disney, “because those crows sing the song in Dumbo that everybody remembers.”
In November 2019, Disney kowtowed to the politically correct, far left lunatics, and confirmed that an edited version of Dumbo without the crows would be featured on Disney+.