by D.W. Lundberg

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. (For my Introduction/Part One, see here. For Part Two, see here. Part Three, here.) Again, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints below.

Title: Dumbo (1941; based on a story written by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Pearl)

The Plot: A baby elephant, ridiculed by his fellow circus animals for his abnormally large ears, finds his independence with the help of a kindly mouse.

The Songs: "Baby Mine," "Casey Junior," "Look Out For Mr. Stork," "Song Of The Roustabouts," "The Clown Song" (aka "We're Gonna Hit The Big Boss For A Raise"), "Pink Elephants On Parade," "When I See An Elephant Fly"

A Little History: After Pinocchio and Fantasia (both 1940) failed to earn a profit at the box office, Walt Disney produced Dumbo on a tighter budget and shorter production schedule, to help recoup his losses. Watercolor backgrounds were used as an economical alternative to the previous two film's expensive gouache and oil paintings (watercolors had also been used for all of Disney's animated short subjects, as well as Snow White). This decidedly less "artistic" approach helped animators focus their attention on character animation. Dumbo ultimately cost $813,000 and earned $2.5 million – more than Pinocchio and Fantasia's total ticket sales combined. RKO Radio Pictures (who distributed all of Walt's features to date) originally took issue with Dumbo's 64-minute running time, requesting that Disney either lengthen the film, cut it down to short-subject length, or release it as a "B" picture. Disney refused, and the film was released exactly as intended.

How It Broke New Ground: The least expensive of all Disney Animated Classics, and the only Disney title with a protagonist who doesn't speak (though Dumbo's mentor/only friend Jiminy Cricket Timothy Q. Mouse does plenty of the talking for him). Also the first animated feature set on American soil. In 1981, Dumbo became the first Animated Classic to be released on videocassette. It has been repackaged and remastered multiple times since, but has yet to go out of print, making Dumbo the only title in this series never to do so.

How It Holds Up Today: It's hard not to adore Dumbo. He's cute, he's courteous, the torment he receives from the other animals only makes us care for him even more, and oh, how he just wants to be loved! The movie itself, though, is handicapped by the smaller budget. The animation is sloppy in patches, the characters (especially the humans) lack the same dexterity of movement as previous Disney titles, and the pacing's a little choppy (I could have used an additional scene or two with Dumbo and his "magic" feather, for added suspense). Also, Disney's reputation as a "harsh taskmaster" (he famously ejected fully animated sequences and songs from Snow White if they served no direct purpose to the plot) feels strangely out of sync with the "Pink Elephants On Parade" sequence, which is superfluous and unnecessary; sure, it's the part everyone remembers, and the animation is undeniably colorful, but it has absolutely no connection with the rest of the movie. It's a distraction, a flourish, and exists simply to pad out the film to feature length. (Thankfully, "When I See An Elephant Fly" helps the movie recover nicely.) Still, it's hard to fault a movie this consistently sweet and appealing.

Grade: B


  1. "Pink Elephants On Parade" was creepy!! =) The rest of the movie...very sweet! There is something funny about a drunk baby elephant hallucinating though...=)

  2. I can't agree more about the pink elephants. I actually become physically uncomfortable watching it.