The one...the only...the FABULOUS...
Dumbo is a 1941 animated musical fantasy film directed by Ben Sharpsteen, written by Joe Grant and Dick Huemer, produced by Walt Disney Productions, and distributed by RKO Radio Pictures. The film is based off of Helen Aberson-Mayer and Harold Pearl's 1939 children's book, Dumbo, the Flying Elephant. It stars Edward Brophy and Verna Felton. The film was nominated for and won Best Original Score while also being nominated for Best Original Song. This is the first film in the Dumbo franchise. It was followed by a remake of the same name. In 2017, the film was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically" significant.
"The whole circus'll be proud of you." - Timothy Q. Mouse
Dumbo is a baby elephant born with massive ears. Because of his ears, he's rejected by society and made a laughingstock at the circus. When the kindhearted Timothy Q. Mouse takes Dumbo under his wing, he helps the baby elephant realize that his ears can help him fly.
Dumbo: Quick Thoughts
Dumbo is...kinda dumb, if I'm being honest.
The film runs just over an hour, and that is the main thing working against it. The story is underdeveloped. The characters are underdeveloped. Nothing is memorable. Dumbo doesn't even figure out that he can fly until there's, like, ten minutes left in the movie! The plot structure is all over the place, and it just makes for a very strange, very frustrating viewing experience.
I'm going to outline the entire plot of Dumbo for you right here: Dumbo is born. Dumbo is bullied. Dumbo gets drunk. Dumbo flies. That's the movie. Each of those segments takes about ten to fifteen minutes, and then we move on to the next plot point. There is a ten minute sequence in this film of Dumbo getting drunk and seeing pink elephants. While it is the best sequence in the movie, it's entirely pointless and doesn't advance the plot at all!
This movie also isn't fun to watch. Disney movies are supposed to be fun, but most of this movie is an adorable baby elephant being bullied and abused by older elephants and people at the circus. It's horrible! It makes you feel sad and awful, but not in the way that you want to.
And you can't talk about Dumbo without talking about the elephant in the room (no pun intended). The crows. If you don't know, Dumbo is infamous for its racial stereotypes. There are shots of black people working on the circus and singing about how they aren't paid and they can't read and write. But the most egregious example of racism in this movie is the crows. They are these black crows that speak in jive. The main crow's name? Jim. Yep. Jim Crow. Since the initial release of the film, it's actually been changed to Dandy Crow, but still. I know it's a problem when there's a disclaimer on Disney+ about how this movie has "outdated cultural depictions". C'mon, guys. Not cool.
On a positive note, the songs are actually really good. I'd say that this film has the overall best soundtrack of any of the Golden Age movies. All four of the songs are solid. That shocked me, because I don't think Dumbo is really well-known for its music, but in my personal opinion, all of the songs in here are better than a lot of the songs in Snow White and Pinocchio.
So, yeah. Dumbo is not my favorite.
The Disney Evaluation
Dumbo isn't really an iconic Disney movie, either. I mean, yeah, I guess it is, but not on the level of Fantasia or Snow White or Pinocchio. Besides Dumbo flying and Pink Elephants on Parade, there isn't really any classic Disney stuff that sticks out here. While I do like all of the songs, none of them are really staples of the Disney canon. This film doesn't really have a villain. Dumbo is one of Disney's iconic characters and Timothy Q. Mouse is up there, but neither of them are really on the level of Snow White, the Evil Queen, Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, and others. So, yeah. I don't think Dumbo is really a great Disney movie, either.
I'll give it a Sword in the Stone.
THE DISNEY SCALE
Mickey Mouse (Top Tier Disney)
Genie's Lamp (Great Disney)
Glass Slipper (Good Disney)
A Sword in the Stone (Bad Disney)
Poison Apple (Terrible Disney)
Family Factor: 6.5/10
Disney Imagery: 6.5/10
Final Thoughts and Score
Dumbo is too short, too mean-spirited, and too racist for me to like it. Despite some enjoyable songs, this is not one of Disney's best.
I will go Sour here. Age range is 6+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)
Fun Factor: 5/10 Acting: 7/10
Directed by Ben Sharpsteen
Released on October 31, 1941
Rated G for disturbing themes and images
1 hour and 4 minutes
Edward Brophy as Timothy Q. Mouse
Verna Felton as Elephant Matriarch / Mrs. Jumbo
Cliff Edwards as Dandy Crow
Herman Bing as The Ringmaster
Sterling Holloway as Mr. Stork