This week we’re off to the Big Top to see if a elephant can really fly!
Once Upon A Time…
Despite being critical successes, Fantasia and Pinocchio were financial failures at the time of their respective releases, so Dumbo was created to recoup the losses of the previous two films. As result of this, the creators were told to keep costs to a minimum, which would have an impact on the art style, making character designs simple and the backgrounds less detailed. Unfortunately, during Dumbo’s production, the Disney Studio staff went on strike for five weeks, which led them to be caricatured as the clowns in Dumbo and also ended the family atmosphere at the studio. Despite this set back, Dumbo would become a financial success that the studio had hoped for, grossing $1.3 million at its initial release.
Memories From My Childhood:
I recall watching Dumbo as a child but it is a very vague memory and I can only remember certain scenes. The scene that sticks out in my mind the most is the one where Dumbo flies for the first time with crows. I think this is also to do with the fact that on UK trailers for Disney that was the one scene that was always included.
My Impressions Today:
We start with a fanfare introduction and after the credits roll by, we begin the story on a dark, stormy night- where we learn that according to Disney, giving birth consists of storks dropping babies onto the expecting mothers. As I watched the baby bundles parachute down to Earth, one thought crossed my mind, don’t let anyone working for Disney teach children biology. Anyway, apparently there’s a bit of a baby boom going on at the circus because everyone but Mrs. Jumbo gets a baby and she’s understandably upset by this.
However there is no time to dwell on how unfair pregnancy is, as everyone has to board the talking circus train. Yes, a talking train. Which leaves me to wonder, is the train magical? Or is it a strange beast? Or did the animators forget that trains don’t talk? Anyway, I digress. As the train makes its way along the track, just like Royal Mail, the Stork arrives and delivers a baby to Mrs. Jumbo… and just like Royal Mail, apparently you can’t have your parcel until you sign for it. There’s a cute moment when Dumbo is revealed for the first time and then again when his ears are revealed for the first time. None of the other elephants decide its a cute moment and instead choose to call the baby Dumbo, much to his mother’s anger.
Once the train reaches its destination, everyone pitches in to pitch the Big Top, including Dumbo. So Disney are OK with child (or is baby?) labour. Good to know. The next day, the circus parades through the town, where Dumbo trips and falls into a patch of mud, causing the towns people to laugh at him. This does give us a very touching scene between Mrs. Jumbo and Dumbo, as she gives him a bath. Unfortunately this doesn’t last as some children show up and laugh at Dumbo. This is the last straw for Mrs Jumbo and she lashes out at those that make fun of her son. This act doesn’t go down to well with the circus and she gets locked up as a ‘mad elephant’.
This go from bad to worse for Dumbo as the other elephants decide to shun him. But
fortunately there is a mouse, who doesn’t give his name, that decides to stick up for poor Dumbo. The Mouse-With-No-Name goes to speak with the other elephants but ends up terrifying them instead. He decides that the only way that Dumbo will be accepted is if he was the star of the show. I’m not sure if this the best message to tell children- people will like you if you’re famous. Or maybe this is part of Disney’s plan to recruit young talent?
In order to achieve this goal, the Mouse-With-No-Name decides to terrorise the ringmaster while he sleeps, by pretending to be his subconscious. This actually works and Dumbo ends up being part of the show… but he gets stage fright. So the Mouse-With-No-Name decides to ‘encourage’ Dumbo with a pin. Yes, a pin. I’ll leave the rest to you. This doesn’t end well and Dumbo gets demoted to the clown act, where he’s dressed up as a baby and made to jump out of a burning building. I can see that animal welfare is a message Disney wants give!
On a different note, can I just say, I’m starting to seriously question the morality of the mouse. I think Dumbo should get as far away from him as possible. Particularly when he tells to Dumbo to drink from a bucket of water, that has alcohol in it, which leads to the (in)famous ‘Pink Elephants on Parade’ scene. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting this scene to be so strange. I also don’t think Disney employees should be giving lessons on alcohol awareness, because alcohol doesn’t make you hallucinate the way Dumbo was…
The next morning Dumbo and the Mouse-With-No-Name are awoken by a crow, which then leads them to realise that they are stuck in a tree. Somehow the Mouse-With-No-Name concludes that Dumbo flew. I’m not sure how he reached that conclusion but he’s already proved to be a little unhinged, so I think anything goes with this mouse. So the mouse decides that this how Dumbo will become famous. The crows find this hilarious but eventually decides to help by giving the Mouse-With-No-Name one of their feathers. the mouse then lies to Dumbo and says its a magic feather that will help him fly. At this point, the lie is probably the least of this mouse’s crimes.
That night during the clown act, Dumbo drops the feather, so the Mouse-With-No-Name
comes clean and admits the feather isn’t magical. Dumbo trusts the mouse, jumps and flies. At this point, the Mouse-With-No-Name’s behaviour has clearly rubbed off on Dumbo as he chases the clowns around the tent and sprays the other elephants with peanuts. This doesn’t get him locked with his mother, as a mad elephant but instead makes him famous.
In the final minutes, Mrs. Jumbo has been released and is reunited with Dumbo. The Mouse-With-No-Name’s name is revealed, it’s Timothy. Timothy?! I suppose all movie psychopaths have average innocent names, like Norman, Freddy and Jason. And we end with Dumbo flying alongside the train.
And They All Lived Happily Ever After…
Overall, I enjoyed Dumbo, even if it was on the short side. Like Pinocchio before it, Dumbo shows some pretty dark themes, like bullying the outsider; alcohol abuse and separation from a parent, but in away that doesn’t make the film too dark for children. Despite not saying a word through the entire film, I found myself getting attached to Dumbo as he struggles to be accepted by those around him. I can see how Dumbo as endured over the years and don’t doubt it will remain a classic for many years to come.
- Look Out For Mr. Stork sung by the Chorus.
- Casey Jr. performed by Casey Jr. the train and the Chorus.
- Roustabouts performed by the Circus members.
- Baby Mine performed by Mrs. Jumbo.
- Hit the Boss (For A Raise) performed by the clowns.
- Pink Elephants on Parade performed by the Chorus.
- When I See An Elephant Fly performed by the Crows.
Where Have I Heard That Voice Before?
Sterling Price Holloway Jr. who provides the voice for Mr. Stork, was also the voice for: the original Winnie the Pooh, Flower from Bambi, Kaa from The Jungle Book, Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland and Roquefort from The Aristocats.
Verna Felton, who’s the voices of the Elephant Matriarch and Mrs. Jumbo, has also been: the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, Flora in Sleeping Beauty, the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, Aunt Sarah in Lady and the Tramp and Winifred the Elephant in The Jungle Book.
Cliff Edwards has been the voice of Jim Crow in Dumbo and Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio.
A Fun Fact To Depart On…
Dumbo was the first Disney Animated Classic to be released on VHS, it would also be the first Classic to be released on DVD. In fact, Dumbo has never gone out of print. It was also meant to have a direct-to-video sequel, like many of the animated classics, but it was cancelled when John Lasseter stop the direct sequels projects.
Next time, I’ll be watching the story of the prince of the forest, Bambi!
Thero used the following as sources for this blog: Dumbo wikia page,