March 26, 2009

Dumbo (1941)

IF YOU READ OR HEAR anything about Dumbo, one of Disney’s first full-length animated films, it’s almost always heralded as a family classic.

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 >>


joe said...

Poor Dumbo.... he had a rough time of it..
I liked The Sword In the Stone much more. I'm not a big elephant fan.

joe said...

I actually loathe Disney, no offense to any disney lovers out there..

James (SeattleDad) said...

Well it is nearly 70 years old. I don't even remember seeing it, but with all the other options, I am glad you keyed me in.

Gemma said...

First of all, I had NO idea the film was that old! No wonder there were so many moments of PC incorrectness! I haven't seen it since I was a wee tyke, but I always thought I loved it! Guess I need to re-visit it as an adult in the 21st century!

kindertrauma said...

The scene where Dumbo's Mom is brutally whipped really did a number on me when I was young, and it has been on my to-do list for Kindertrauma since we launched the site. Thanks for reminding me about it. -- aunt john

Keith said...

I know I saw this movie as a kid, but I remember nothing about it one way or the other.

Kathy B. said...

I didn't particulary like Dumbo and it's one of the many Disney films I never showed to the boys when they were young.

KeegsMom said...

I agree, the brutality in the film and that one scene with the mom and Dumbo, well... ugh. We watched it when our kid was about four and i was SHOCKED at how depressing it is. I think we even stopped watching it. Good to remind people!

Jim @ said...

I have since watched as an adult, not recently. I think your term "dated" is very fitting. I sort of remember watching it as a kid also. Was it really released in 1941, that's amazing!

Surfer Jay said...

Wow, I never realized how old that movie was. You are right, it is a rather depressing story. And I even remember thinking that as a kid. But I did watch it a 1,001 times way back when, and I loved it. But I haven't seen it in twenty years...but now I think I won't rewatch it out of fear of ruining my fond memories of it. Perhaps some day...

Anonymous said...

Dumbo is brilliant. The depiction of motherly love is so true. Dumbo learns to believe in himself in a way children and adults can relate to. Thank you for posting.

Chris G. Nuff Said said...

Great movie, and yes it has sad parts (Thats Disney for you) and it has great parts also, Someone said its cliche? Back then, this wasn't cliche, How many movies were made then compared to now? See my point? That movie is a classic as well it should be ;
I will say this: The "Jim" Crow was pretty racist. But he ended up as a protagonist so guess thats even stevens lol


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