(This is #4 in a series where we review every classic, full-length, Disney animated movie. Except for Fantasia. Read the rest of the reviews here.)
#4 – Dumbo
“Your head is big. It’s huge. I mean, it’s just ridiculously large.” These are words that I heard during my early childhood. I was called Blow Pop ®, Peanut Head, and E.T. MY mom had to cut the neck of my shirts until I was 3 so that they could be slipped over my head. These words echoed in my head and, at times, made me feel self-conscious. The only thing that made me feel better was my Mother telling me that she loved me just the way I am.
Dumbo is the 4th full-length animated movie by the Walt Disney Corporation. Having been released on October 23, 1941, the movie was made with the hopes of recouping the money lost by Fantasia. The movie follows the young life of a circus elephant named Jumbo Jr. (nicknamed Dumbo) as he learns to deal with the loss of his mother, being ridiculed and shunned by the older members of the circus, and, finally, finding happiness due to a kind soul named Timothy Q. Mouse.
This movie is over 75 years old. It’s insane to think of that, but this is movie #4 in the long line of Disney animated classics. Despite its age, this movie stands the test of time. Although the cartoon is completely hand-drawn, the animation is crisp and head and shoulders above the animation of Snow White which is only 4 years older. There are also a timeless theme that keep this movie relevant. The entire theme of the movie is that a mother’s love can conquer all. Several times within the movie Dumbo is consoled by his mother even though she is incarcerated. Her love for Dumbo trumps her own prison. In the song, “Baby Mine” she sings, “From your head down to your toes you’re not much, goodness knows. But you’re so precious to me, sweet as can be, baby of mine.” In that moment she lets Dumbo know that no matter how he is viewed by others he will always be the most special person in the world to her. This love and affirmation is what give Dumbo the strength to keep going.
My wife and I have sung “Baby Mine” to each of our kids at bedtime from the time they were infants. I always thought that it was just a pleasant song to sing, but, the truth is, that is how I feel about my kids. They are mine. For better or worse, with their fears and imperfections, they are mine and I wouldn’t change a thing about them. Rewind 30 years, my mother made me feel loved and accepted not because of anything that I did to deserve it, but, simply because I was hers. It’s a powerful thing to realize that you’re loved just because…you are loved. Regardless of your head size, a disability, a lack of ability, or anything else, it’s amazing to simply love and be loved in return.
Due to the fact that this movie was made in the late 1930’s (and released in 1941) there are a couple of scenes in this movie that are viewed as “taboo” for this day and age. There are a couple of scenes where Dumbo and Timothy interact with a group of black crows (named Jim Crow and his brothers) that display African-Amercian stereotypes (speech, dress, etc.) The main crow was voiced by Cliff Edwards (known for his hit song “Singing in the Rain” and also the voice of Jiminy Cricket.) Although Edwards was White, it was common for White actors of the day to portray characters with stereotypically African-American traits. The crows are portrayed as protagonists, but it’s still a little jarring.
There is also a scene in the movie where Dumbo and Timothy drink what they think is water, but they do not realize that a clumsy clown accidentally spiked it with champagne. This leads to the two of them becoming…happy and seeing pink elephants dancing and parading around. Although the scene was meant to be humorous, the stigma of alcohol nowadays coupled with the spike in underage drinking could make this scene uncomfortable for some parents.
Both of my boys love this movie. Their favorite thing to do while the movie is on is to “fly” around the living room pretending that they are Dumbo the Elephant. I definitely recommend watching this movie and even though it will add nothing to your appreciation of the Disneyland ride, I truly believe that this movie will remind us all that we are still very precious even with our imperfections.