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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

Week # 6: "Dumbo"

(Originally published on 2/10/22)



Run time: 65 min

Release Date: October 23, 1941

Where/when I first saw it: Unclear. Most likely television.

How I watched it today: Blu-ray, Saturday morning.For Disney’s fourth animated feature film, the animators hit on something that would be almost like a blueprint or template for generations to come on how to win audience’s hearts with just one character. And it would all be in the eyes. The character of Dumbo gives way to characters such as E.T., Babe and WALL*E, characters who seem so human, probably better than human, yet are completely manufactured out of countless story meetings, gallons of paint and other such materials that you only find in labs.

And yet, with just the right face, the right childish temperament and the crucial choice to not have him say a single word, Dumbo remains one of the single greatest of all Disney creations. And let’s not forget the mother either. Where would the story be without her? And who among us can watch her cradle Dumbo with her trunk from the confines of her cage and not shed a tear? Her love knows no bounds and–again, without her saying a single word–we share in that love and the need to protect against the cruelties of many human and animal characters.

“Dumbo” was Disney’s most effortless creation at this point and it comes through in its mostly tight 65-minute running time. Though short, it accomplishes a lot more than many 2.5-hour movies I’ve seen. The visual storytelling is fun and graceful. The songs and music are catchy and memorable. The big payoff at the end is earned. And the animators still have fun pushing themselves into uncharted territory with the psychedelic “Pink Elephants” sequence that today remains a wicked delight. While the animation has been simplified since “Pinocchio” (though certainly not cheapened), the elegant flourishes of “Fantasia” remain. Just look at the formation of the storks flying through the clouds. It’s like another lost sequence in its own right.

Speaking of lost sequences, though, the choice to not commit to a sequence involving large sadistic mice (as Timothy Q. Mouse explains to Dumbo the origins of why elephants are afraid of mice) is one where it was the right choice, so as to keep the story flowing, but boy what I would give to see it brought to life and put in for future releases. Would it still have been a classic if the artists had followed through? Probably, but with a much different reputation, I think.

As it stands, “Dumbo” earns itself a place as part of Disney’s golden age, no matter what you might think of the crows. Depending on which side of the argument you take, that sequence might make you take a slight pause in your enjoyment when watched today (as will the sight of any clown), but the song “When I See An Elephant Fly” does have a way of getting stuck in your head.

I have only recently wondered why “Dumbo” was treated as just another Disney movie back in the ‘80s when it was always readily available on home video and semi-regularly shown on television. Was it the running time that made it seem like a “lesser” title? Considering it was always one of Walt’s favorites, I would have thought the studio would treat it as more of a sacred cow. It never got a theatrical re-release after 1976, while some of the more inferior films did. We’ll probably never know. Just curious.


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