Well, after watching Dumbo with Dash, I’m still trying to figure out what exactly makes this film a “family” classic. Because to me, it was the most jarring, depressing Disney film I’ve ever seen.
Now, before you flame me in the comments (do people still say “flame”?), let me present several examples to defend my statement that Dumbo is not the warm, fun family film everybody remembers it to be:
• The opening-scene trauma of a flock of storks dropping off babies to every animal at the circus – except Mrs. Jumbo, Dumbo’s future mama. (Realizing his mistake, the stork soon returns with a baby for her.)
• The group of cruel, gossipy lady elephants who talk viciously about Mrs. Jumbo and her newborn, especially after they see his enormous ears: “His disgrace is our own shame.” “I wouldn’t eat at the same bale of hay of him.” “Pretend you don’t see him.”
• Oh, by the way, “Dumbo” is a derogatory nickname given to him by one of the gossips, after he reveals his huge ears. (He had been previously named “Jumbo Jr.” by his mommy.)
• The incessant taunting and teasing of Dumbo by, well, everybody but his mother and Timothy Q. Mouse (Edward Brophy).
• Mrs. Jumbo is caged and labeled “MAD ELEPHANT” after (justifiably) rampaging and attacking a snotty circus-goer who teases Dumbo.
• Let’s not forget the extended sequence where Dumbo and Timothy get drunk on a bucket of water accidentally spiked with champagne, which includes them seeing pink elephants and other marching, dancing, shape-shifting creatures.
• The cigar-chomping, borderline-racist caricatures of the flock of crows (including one named, I kid you not, Jim Crow) who heckle Dumbo and Timothy after the duo wakes up in a tree following their drunken antics.
• The heartbreaking reunion between Mrs. Jumbo and Dumbo, where she can’t see him through her cage, but can only feel him with her trunk (cue “Baby Mine” and crying by anyone watching).
And to cap it all off, I’ll make a small request: Quick, think of Dumbo. What’s he doing? Flying, right. Well, guess what? He doesn’t fly until there’s less than 10 minutes left in the movie. Let me repeat that: The iconic image most people have of Dumbo is something he does with less than 10 minutes left in the film. In fact, Dumbo’s moment in the big-top spotlight showing off his flying skills happens with only three minutes to go!
It’s like another Disney classic, The Sword in the Stone, where the one image people remember is Arthur pulling the sword out of the stone – which (spoiler alert!) happens in the last 5 minutes of that movie.
Despite all my aforementioned bashing, there are some appealing aspects to Dumbo. The scenes where Mrs. Jumbo and Dumbo bond and play are endearing, and Timothy’s attempts to be his friend are humorous. And okay, the clown firemen bits were pretty funny, and they had Dash and I both laughing.
Look, I’m not saying Dumbo is an awful film. But if I’m rating it based on the fact that it’s viewed and cherished as a kid-friendly classic, then this pic about an airborne pachyderm should be grounded.
Post-script: When Timothy sees Dumbo fly, he realizes where Dumbo fits into the circus show: as the closing act. And he shouts, “Dumbo, you’re a climax!” I quickly had to turn my immature chuckle into a coughing fit to prevent having to explain why that line was so funny to Daddy.
Rating: 1.5 stars (out of 5).
What did Dash think?Dash did seem to genuinely like Dumbo. He chuckled quite a bit during Timothy’s antics, and giggled several times at all the merriment during Dumbo and Timothy’s drunken stupor. He had some thoughts on the opening stork scene and Mrs. Jumbo (“Why didn’t a baby come for her?”), as well as the group of crows busting on Dumbo and Timothy (“I hate them”).
Will you FilmMother want to watch it?For nostalgic reasons, probably. And again, Dumbo is not a bad film. To me, it’s just a bit dated in terms of what’s considered (to use a well-worn cliché) a film for the whole family.
* Director: Ben Sharpsteen
* Screenwriters: Joe Grant, Dick Huemer
* Stars: Verna Felton, Edward Brophy, Sterling Holloway, Noreen Gammill, Herman Bing
* MPAA Rating: G
Buy this movie for less at Half.com >>