#185 Dumbo

(1941, Ben Sharpsteen)

“I ain’t never seen a elephant fly”

So, after In The Realm Of The Senses last time, I need something to come down from the un-erotic and borderline creepy non-step sex; preferably something more wholesome and refreshing. Do I have any more Disney movies to review?

YES! YES I DO. Here’s Dumbo.

Dumbo is the fourth film in the Disney Animated Canon, and quite possibly one of their simplest. It’s about a baby elephant who gets made fun of because of his big ears, gets ostracised by his fellow elephants following the imprisonment of his mother and eventually triumphs over adversity to teach kids that you shouldn’t make fun of someone with physical deformities, especially if it gives them special powers. It’s basically Disney’s X-Men before X-Men became Disney’s X-Men.

Dumbo is also Disney’s most childish movie. See, the reason Disney have prevailed as much as they have is that their movies tend to have plenty for adults to enjoy while keeping the children in the audience entertained – The Lion King is a Shakespearian tragedy hidden behind fuzzy animals and an Elton John soundtrack, for instance – but Dumbo doesn’t really have this element to hang onto. From start to finish, this is an exercise in amusing small children and nothing more.

The problem is, since I am not a small child, I’m a grown man in his twenties, I kind of found it difficult to enjoy the movie. The movie relies so heavily on whimsy that it kind of forgets to do important things like character and plot development. Yes, that silly little bouncy train is very well animated, but it’s also pretty cheesy.

Plot-wise, everything’s pretty much laid out in front of you from the start. Dumbo is a “freak”, and shunned by his peers because no one wants to hang out with someone with big ears (apparently). But you know he’s going to do well because it’s a Disney movie, and there’s barely any tension or interest. Maybe I’m a cynical movie reviewer at this point, but I expect more than just an hour of an elephant looking sad before suddenly realising his niche in the last ten minutes and suddenly making the circus an overnight success before the movie just…ends.

It doesn’t help that the characters are all pretty bland. Dumbo is there to look sad and have big ears, his mouse friend isn’t given a name until the last frame of the movie, let alone much of a personality, and everyone else is just kind of there. The clowns are all the same, the huffy lady elephants are all the same, and then there are the circus workers…who all seem to be black…and…gleefully working for no pay…um…Disney, are you sure this is OK? I mean, I know it’s the forties but…I’ll just move on, I guess.

That said, questionable racial attitudes aside (even if not racial, questionable attitudes towards fair pay for workers aside), Dumbo is a largely inoffensive movie. It’s bland as hell, but the animation is good, and I can see kids being absolutely in love with its bounciness and its colour and its simple characters; very wholesome and nice and very relaxing to watch, and not at all going to make me feel uncomfortable like the last movie did.

Oh wait, no, here come the pink elephants. This is about the closest the movie gets to appealing to the adults, because this will traumatise kids for life. The problem is, this is also likely to traumatise the adults in the audience too. Remember, I’m a grown man in my twenties, and I was freaked out by this sequence. It’s a Lynchian nightmare in animated form, taking the trippiest elements of Fantasia and flinging them together in a drug-laced mess before dumping it in front of children in the midst of the blandest Disney movie ever made. What is this?!

So now I’m traumatised, I will say this. Spoiler alert: Bambi isn’t on the Movies You Must See list, but this is, and the opposite should almost certainly be true. Dumbo is flavourless and unfocused, leaping between childish whimsy, questionable attitudes towards low-wage workers and LSD-fuelled nightmare fuel. Certainly not one of the better films in the Disney Canon, and I demand that the Movies You Must See list immediately replace it with the next movie, Bambi, which is much, much better.

Starring the voices of John McLeish, Edward Brophy, Herman Bing, Margaret Wright, Sterling Holloway & Cliff Edwards
Written by Helen Aberson (story) and Otto Englander, Joe Grant & Dick Huemer
Produced by Walt Disney
Music by Frank Churchill & Oliver Wallace

Favourite Scene: Since the pink elephant scene was the only scene I had any real reaction to (even that reaction was outright terror), it wins.
Scene That Bugged Me: Those workers singing about how much they don’t care about being paid. What was all that about?

Watch it if: You’re under the age of 10
Avoid it if: You’re an adult who has no children


Posted on May 16, 2013, in 1940s, Animation, Family and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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