US Release Date: 10-31-1941
Directed by: Samuel Armstrong, Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts, Ben Sharpsteen
- Edward Brophy, as
- Timothy Q. Mouse (voice)
- Verna Felton, as
- Mrs. Jumbo (voice)
- Herman Bing, as
- The Ringmaster (voice)
- Billy Bletcher, as
- Clown (voice)
- Cliff Edwards, as
- Jim Crow (voice)
- James Baskett, as
- Crow (voice)
- Jim Carmichael, as
- Crow (voice)
- Sterling Holloway, as
- Mr. Stork (voice)
- Harold Manley, as
- Boy (voice)
- John McLeish as
- Narrator (voice)
Dumbo's hearbreaking visit to his imprisoned mother.
Dumbo is the classic Disney cartoon about the flying elephant. It runs just over an hour and features some colorful, if simplistic, animation. Before Rudolph, Dumbo was made fun of and ostracized for a physical nonconformity. The message of the story is as old as time but still rings true. It’s about being different, an outsider. And learning that what others originally perceive to be a flaw just might turn out to be our greatest asset.
The movie begins as a cutesy animal cartoon with storks bringing babies to the various animals of a circus in their winter quarters in Florida. The tigers, giraffes, hippos, monkeys and kangaroos all receive their little bundles of joy. But Mrs. Jumbo sadly awaits the arrival of her baby. Finally, shortly after the circus train has departed, Mr. Stork shows up with her precious (not to mention heavy) newborn. But what’s this? Her baby has humongous ears and is dubbed Dumbo by the other catty mother elephants.
The story then morphs into a tragedy of Shakespearean proportion. After Dumbo is taunted by a group of children his mother reacts violently and before you know it she is chained up and labeled a mad elephant. The scene where Dumbo visits his imprisoned mother is incredibly sad. It ranks up there with Bambi’s mother’s death in terms of eliciting an emotional response. Without uttering a word (in fact he never speaks in the entire movie) Dumbo breaks your heart.
Enter Timothy Q. Mouse. He’s a mouse that follows the circus. He has a New York accent and attitude to match. When he sees the other mother elephants refusing to have anything to do with Dumbo he goes into action and scares the bejeezus out of them. He befriends the little guy and together they face the world.
One night Dumbo and Timothy get smashed on some champagne that was spilled into a tub of water. Thus begins the surreal “Pink Elephants on Parade” scene. It is a truly bizarre hallucination that contains some disturbing visuals such as a marching elephant made up of many different-colored elephant heads.
The next morning a group of crows discover Timothy and Dumbo sleeping off their bender on a branch near the top of a tall tree. I won’t give away how it ends, although I’m sure everyone reading this already knows. I will say that Dumbo’s moment of triumph will uplift the human spirit or at the very least bring a smile to your face.
Walt Disney and this movie have been criticized for the fact that the crows are voiced by both white and black actors speaking in what some consider to be an insulting African-American dialect. While white actors imitating black speech may not be politically correct you really can’t tell what race they are by their voices alone, and their presence brings an undeniable vibrancy to the movie. The crows turn out to be heroes by helping Dumbo learn to fly and, other than Timothy and Dumbo’s mother, are the only characters to accept him as he is.
Dumbo was made during the Golden Age of Walt Disney Studios. It remains, after 70 years and counting, a timeless masterpiece.
Photos © Copyright Walt Disney Productions (1941)