Directed By: Ben Sharpsteen (Supervising)
Produced By: Walt Disney
Based On: “Dumbo, the Flying Elephant” by Helen Aberson (1939)
Premiered On: October 31, 1941
Distribution By: RKO Radio Pictures
Likely one of the most recognized of the Disney Animated Feature Films, Dumbo is the story of a young elephant, named Jumbo Jr. by his mother, who is cruelly renamed as Dumbo due to the fact that he has extremely large ears. By extremely large I mean each ear is easily bigger than he is overall. Thankfully, he finds a find in one Timothy Q. Mouse, who tries his best to bolster the baby elephant’s confidence despite all of the hardships thrown his way.
Hardships such as having his mother taken from him when she acted in his defense when a group of boys started tormenting him, the other elephants outright shunning him, and the ringmaster making Dumbo to play the part of a clown in a circus act that would have PETA positively howling for blood.
Fortunately for our titular elephant, salvation comes to him the morning following a immense mind-screwing sequence born from partaking in too much alcohol. Literally and figuratively I think too. I don’t mean to step atop a soapbox here but really, the whole sequence of “Pink Elephants” is just so flipping weird and disturbing that even as a child I couldn’t stomach watching it all from beginning to end. I’d either close my eyes tight to it or outright run from the room and this is coming from the same kid who watched The Black Cauldron without so much as batting an eye.
Anyway, Dumbo and Timothy find themselves waking up in a tree to a flock of crows who can’t help themselves from poking a little fun at the pair, particularly when Timothy comes to the astonishing conclusion that Dumbo, in his drunken sleepy stupor, flown up into the branches of the tree. After a proper dressing down from Timothy, the crows try to bolster Dumbo’s confidence enough to get him to fly by way of a “magic feather,” which does the trick.
Unfortunately, during another performance at the circus, Dumbo looses the feather and his confidence with it until Timothy manages to convince him to try to fly without it and just in time too. Following a spectacular airshow, Dumbo becomes an international celebrity and thus he, and his mother, live happily ever after.
Overall, Dumbo is film that is well and truly aimed towards children and while it can definitely be enjoyed as an adult too, it’s not one that I imagine could be watched time and time again. It’s a cute film with an even cuter story of acceptance and confidence but… Well, let it is a film based on a children’s toy after all but then, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself now aren’t I? Let me speak first of the film’s most prominent of songs first before I go into its origins.
While the song “Baby Mine” is truly the most heartfelt of songs, it’s far too much a lullaby to me to truly enjoy. Meaning that I can’t listen to it without falling asleep near the end really but hey, at least I’m honest in that regard. No, the song that well and truly encompasses this movie is “When I See an Elephant Fly.” Aside from the song all but describing the sheer impossibility of a flying elephant, I find the wordplay throughout the song to be rather fun. Really, it would make for some interesting sights wouldn’t it?
As to the original source material for the film, now there’s an interesting story to be had there. Rather than a fairy tale or a popular book, the idea was born from something of a children’s toy at the time, or what would have been at any rate. A “Roll-a-Book,” which is exactly as it sounds with its closest relation being a panorama.
In point of fact, the device was still a prototype that had been brought to Walt Disney’s attention by his then head of merchandising. While Mr. Disney didn’t care much for the toy itself he did greatly enjoy the story, which was all of eight illustrations and a few scant sentences long.
Though the original prototype never went to shelves and little more than the blueprints and the original cover can be found of it, the one thing that can be said with absolute certainty is one extremely minor difference between it and the film. Namely that the role of Dumbo’s little buddy Timothy was a robin and not a mouse but in the grand scheme of major alterations that barely ranks a one.
Overall, I’d give Dumbo a good four out of five stars. Again, it’s far from being a bad movie and while it’s certainly a good one, it’s not truly one that I could say is worth watching time and time again. Definitely one to watch with the kids but beyond that… Not particularly no.