Connect with us


Disney 53, Week 4: Dumbo

Each week, THN takes a look back at one of the Walt Disney Animated Classics. The ones that the Walt Disney Company showed in cinemas, the ones they’re most proud of, the ones that still cost a bloody fortune no matter how old they are. The really good ones get through more editions than the Star Wars trilogy, and that’s saying something.

This week, it’s Walt Disney’s favourite, and arguably one of the very best, the ever loveable DUMBO.


1941/ 64 minutes

Budget: $813,000

Box Office $1.3 Million

Directed by Ben Sharpsteen

Despite the Second World War cutting off foreign markets – and the US finally deciding to join in reducing box office draw – DUMBO was the most financially successful Disney film of the 1940s. Okay, a re-release in 1949 helped, but still.

After neither FANTASIA nor PINOCCHIO turned a profit, Disney was adamant that DUMBO be made as economically as possible, lacking the lavish detail of its elder siblings. The animators not being overly concerned with the details, allowed them to focus on something a lot more important: Acting.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all plain sailing. In May 1941, many of Disney’s studio staff went on strike, following a dispute between the Screen Cartoonists Guild and Walt himself. The strike lasted for five weeks and effectively changed the Studio forever. Gone was the ‘family’ atmosphere and camaraderie that had defined the studio, and also affected production of the later film SALUDOS AMIGOS.


SYNOPSIS: On board a circus train, an expectant mother elephant has her baby delivered by the Stork (who went on to cameo in several other Disney cartoons). The baby is christened ‘Jumbo, Jr’ by his mother (her only line in the whole film), but is swiftly branded Dumbo by the other circus pachyderms when he sneezes, revealing super-elephant ears.

The Circus comes to town and is set up. Unfortunately, ‘Dumbo’’s ears earn the attention of a group of young douchebags, who taunt and tease the boy for his ‘deformity’. When his mother intervenes, she’s deemed mad and incarcerated, while the other elephants abandon the wee lad. Enter Timothy Q. Mouse, a mouse (well, duh) who takes pity on Dumbo and pulls a Jiminy Cricket, appointing himself the young elephant’s mentor and protector, determined to bring some joy back into his life.

Timothy’s first plan, to make Dumbo the star of a daring elephantine stunt, goes horribly wrong when Dumbo trips on his ears and misses his target, destroying the big top and injuring the other elephants. As punishment, Dumbo is made a clown, and the ‘hero’ of a routine which involves him leaping from a burning building and being caught in a giant vat of pie filling. While he becomes a big hit with the crowds, he’s even more miserable than ever. In a heart-warming/breaking (take your pick) sequence, Timothy takes Dumbo to see his mother, who reaches out to cradle her son from behind the bars of her cell. On their way back, Dumbo cries his little heart out and starts to hiccup. Unknown to Timothy, the bucket of water they find to calm him down has been spiked with alcohol by the clowns, as they celebrate their success and head out to ‘hit the big boss for a raise’. (Insert topical analogy here).

Timothy and Dumbo promptly get drunk and start to hallucinate, seeing pink elephants sing and dance before their eyes; a sequence so trippy even FANTASIA looks sane. They wake to the sounds of a gaggle of crows, who are wondering why, and indeed how, a baby elephant is sitting in the top of a tree, one hundred feet above the ground. After an inevitable crash to Earth, Timothy reasons the only way Dumbo could gave gotten up there was by flight. Naturally, the crows think this is hilarious, but are brought around to the idea and agree to help; interesting to note that the ‘black’ characters are the only ones going out of their way to help Dumbo and Timothy in their plight.
Dumbo is gifted with a ‘magic feather’, ‘donated’ by one of the crows. Using this and a bit of psychology, they help Dumbo take wing (ear) and soar.

Returning to the circus, who don’t seem to have noticed their new star going missing for an entire day, Dumbo is pushed back into service as the ‘hero’ of the Fire Escape routine, from an even higher height than before. As he dives from atop the burning scaffold once more, Dumbo drops the feather. As they plummet towards either death or embarrassment, Timothy manages to convince Dumbo the feather was a trick and that he can fly on his own. At the point of no return, Dumbo spreads his ears and soars around the big top, to the amazement of all. After getting his own back on the clowns and elephants who ridiculed him, Dumbo the Flying Elephant becomes the star of the circus and an international celebrity, and is reunited with his mother.

Lessons Learned:

1. Bullies always get their comeuppance, eventually.

2. Drinking isn’t good for you.

3. Believe in yourself and you can accomplish anything.


THE HERO: Timothy Q. Mouse, voiced by Edward Brophy, Dumbo
While it’s Dumbo’s name on the card, it’s the mouse who’s the real hero here. He’s the one that puts it all on the line to help a complete stranger to find happiness and their place in life.

INTERESTING INTERLUDE: DUMBO is the first and only Disney animated feature to have a title character who doesn’t speak. Save from a few hiccups and the odd sound effect, Dumbo is mute. Considering he’s apparently only a few days old at the start of the story, this isn’t exactly hard to believe. Dumbo’s real name, Jumbo Jr, is (most likely) a reference to the real elephant celebrity Jumbo, a supersized pachyderm and star of infamous showman’s PT Barnum’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’. It’s where we get the word ‘Jumbo’ from, incidentally.

THE HEROINE: Mrs. Jumbo, voice of Verna Felton

Being the only female character who doesn’t have it in for the lad, Dumbo’s mother is the closest thing the movie has to a heroine. That said, she comes to Dumbo’s rescue to fend off the people abusing him, only to be incarcerated.

There are no outright villains in Dumbo, just a cast of characters who are either spiteful, demeaning, degrading or insulting. They all change their tunes when Dumbo makes his name, but they all qualify as villainous in one way or another.

I’m mainly thinking about the Crows here. Some people have claimed they’re racial stereotypes, and I can see the argument, but remember, they’re the only ones who actually seem to care about Dumbo, once Timothy’s brought them around. They’re also pretty darn smart and talented; their wordplay rivals Lewis Carroll’s.



The film is barely an hour long; the shortest Disney movie to date. But it manages to tell a heart-warming, life affirming story with rich and vibrant characters. Hell, they even manage to give the circus steam train his own little story.

Some of them are genuine; the elephants freaking out raises a laugh, but a lot of the comedy is at Dumbo’s expense. Okay, fair enough, it’s his job, but you do find yourself feeling for the little guy.

Four words: Pink Elephants On Parade

Can you imagine sitting in a movie theatre and this appears out of the blue? There must have been thousands of people checking their popcorn and cola.

Much like PINOCCHIO, DUMBO focuses on an outside observer coming to the aid of the title character and guiding them through their story, a good Samaritan acting out of the kindness of their heart. Dumbo learns that the world can be a cruel place if you’re different, but if you find a way to transcend your perceived disability, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.

Catchy, simple tunes that can stick in your head for days. The score actually won an Oscar, while ‘Baby Mine’ was nominated for Best Original Song, but lost out to ‘The Last Time I Saw Paris’, from LADY BE GOOD… nope, me either.

To this day, DUMBO is one of the best loved animated features of all time. The characters have made countless cameos, from ROGER RABBIT to KINGDOM HEARTS. A proposed sequel was cancelled, and rightly so I think. The story is perfect and doesn’t need anything more.




(By about March we should have enough movies on this list to bother with a scoreboard.)

Any thoughts, questions, complaints? As the Candlestick said, ‘Be our guest’.

Sources: disney.wikia, IMDb

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Latest Posts


More in Features