64 Min. | Animation – Family – Musical | February 1942
IMDB Rating: 7.3
Directors: Samuel Armstrong, Norman Ferguson
Staring: Sterling Holloway, Edward Brophy, James Baskett
Dumbo Review: “Dumbo” is really a short film padded by artistic sequences set to moving, Oscar-winning music. It opens with storks delivering babies to all the animals involved in a traveling circus. The kangaroo gets her baby, the tiger gets her babies and even the hippo gets her baby, but poor Mrs. Jumbo the elephant is left empty-handed. This sets the tone for the alienation both she and her soon-to-arrive child, Jumbo Jr., will experience throughout the film. When Mr. Stork eventually delivers Jumbo Jr., he and his mother become a laughing stock when the other lady elephants see his gigantic ears, nicknaming him “Dumbo.” At one point at a circus stop, several spectators tease Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo goes mad with rage. The Ringmaster has her chained up in a train car and Dumbo is left to fend for himself — until he’s befriended by Timothy Q. Mouse. Timothy thinks Dumbo’s ears suit him well and believes he could be a star. He becomes Dumbo’s life coach and only companion.
The tender relationship between Dumbo and his mother is the emotional core of the film. Neither character speaks, and so the animators must focus on telling that story through the animation. At one point, a deflated Dumbo reunites with his confined mother and she cradles him in her trunk through the barred windows of the train car as the song “Baby Mine” plays, a timeless lullaby. Even Timothy sheds a tear. It’s the most powerful scene in the film and testament to Disney’s legacy. “Dumbo” has lots of unforgettable sequences peppered throughout that accompany the extremely basic narrative arc of how wide-eyed Dumbo gets separated from mom, feels shame and embarrassment for who he is and then accepts and believes in himself. Not all of them make sense and many are of questionable appropriateness, but they give “Dumbo” it’s unique stamp among the Disney classics.
At that point we meet the black crows, several jive-talking caricatures of African-Americans led by a character named Jim Crow (Cliff Edwards). Even if you assume the best of intentions on Disney’s end, there’s still a lot of insensitivity to be accounted for. At the same time, while they mock Dumbo at first, they apologize and are among few characters to be nice to him. Over time, these regrettable choices have given “Dumbo” its own unique flavor and helped it become a classic that stands on its own merits in Disney’s canon, not a film that has simply been bolstered by the films made before and after it. Coming off “Fantasia” and “Pinocchio,” “Dumbo” delivered the same emotional punch with less at its disposal in terms of story and visual detail. It’s over in a flash, but “Dumbo” stands out with more than big ears.