Review: Dumbo Dumbo (1941)

Dumbo Dumbo (1941)

Directed by: Samuel Armstrong, Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts, Ben Sharpsteen, John Elliotte | 64 minutes | drama, animation, family, musical | Original voice cast: Edward Brophy, Sterling Holloway, Herman Bing, Cliff Edwards, Verna Felton, Billy Bletcher, Jim Carmichael, Hall Johnson Choir, Noreen Gammill, Eddie Holden, Malcolm Hutton, Hall Johnson, Harold Manley, John McLeish, Tony Neil, Dorothy Scott, Sarah Selby, Billy Sheets, Chuck Stubbs, Margaret Wright

After the loss-making ‘Pinocchio’ (1940) and ‘Fantasia’ (1940), the Disney studio had to try to limit the losses with a relatively cheap cartoon. They adapted a 1938 children’s book written by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl that told about the circus elephant Dumbo who was born with ears that were way too big. Despite the fact that the outside world mocks him for this, he still manages to achieve success and thus prove his tormentors wrong.

The original book had only a few pages. This meant that the folks at Disney had to expand the story considerably. Nevertheless, with a playing time of just over an hour, this is the shortest of all Disney classics. And according to tradition also the personal favorite of Walt Disney himself. Actually, ‘Dumbo’ is most of all a story about unconditional mother love and perseverance. Dumbo’s mother only wants to love her new baby and protect him from the evil outside world. When she is punished for this, Dumbo gets help from Timothy, a mouse who also works in the circus. Because all of a sudden he’s on his own. The other elephants let him fall mercilessly. But together with the clever and cunning Timothy, and the help of a troop of crows, Dumbo will turn his apparent ‘disability’ into his greatest strength.

As mentioned, ‘Dumbo’ is a cartoon that was made with a budget that was tight for Disney standards. That is why the animation is not as detailed and finished as other Disney films. The advantage of this is that the film has a somewhat rawer edge and can concentrate more on the characters and the story. This is one of the strong points of the film. A succession of memorable and colorful scenes such as the birth of Dumbo via the stork, the delicious slapstick violence in the circus ring, the short but well-crafted songs and the legendary, surreal ‘pink elephant’ scene. But Dumbo probably makes the most impact on an emotional level. Who does not sympathize with the misfit who is treated badly by everything and everyone, but who rises above himself with the help of other misfits? Literally and figuratively. One of the best, if not the best Disney story. A heartwarming wonderful film!

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