With Tim Burton’s Dumbo hitting theaters this week, we’re taking a look back at the original animated feature.
Full disclosure, despite being raised on Disney films all of my life, and practically living at Disney World as a child, I somehow never saw Dumbo before now. With the new film coming out, I figured this would be the best time to jump into the film that I’ve always heard is one of the best of Walt Disney’s original features. I knew “Baby Mine” and “When I See an Elephant Fly,” I knew that Dumbo did fly (obviously), and something about pink elephants when Dumbo got drunk. But that was the extent of my knowledge for the most part. Which was actually rather fitting.
Overall Dumbo is much less of a feature film, and feels more like a series of vignettes starring a big eared baby elephant. It honestly feels like a series of Disney’s Silly Symphonies more than anything else. Dumbo himself never speaks, but most of the animals and people around him do. There’s very little dialogue, and when there is dialogue it is usually used to set up music numbers, or to help transition between scenes. None if this is really a bad thing, the film does a great job of using the music to tell the story, and the animation is incredibly well done and there isn’t a moment where you don’t understand what Dumbo is feeling.
One of the most shocking element of the film is how sad and melancholy it is. Dumbo’s mother is put in a cage and branded as a “Mad Elephant” when she fights back against children that bully her and Dumbo. He never gets to see her except through the bars on her windows. He’s constantly ridiculed for the way he looks, and is used as a prop in performances for the circus. Performances that are often life threatening for the baby elephant. It isn’t until the end of the film, literally the last 6 minutes or so, when the baby elephant learns to fly and is finally given something to be happy about.
Dumbo is a fun little film, coming in at just over an hour. It’s quick and heartfelt, and something the whole family can enjoy. It’s full of beautiful animation, and honestly there are elements within the “pink elephants” scene which, 78 years later, look like something crafted for a new animated feature coming out this year. It packs an emotional punch at times, and mixes music and animation in ways that you’d expect from a Disney film. Overall, it may not be as spectacular as some of Disney’s more recent films but Dumbo is still a treasure almost 80 years later.
Dumbo is currently available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital format on Amazon.