Week 4: Dumbo

An Example of the Soaring Heights Animation Can Reach

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Originally Released: 1941

It seems to me that Dumbo doesn’t get as much publicity these days as some of the other Disney features. Much like the circus and the story of storks delivering babies, it is becoming a little more forgotten in today’s world. In fact, even Disney itself failed to label the film as one of its prestigious “Diamond Edition” films in its most recent release from the Disney Vault.

Whatever the reason for this lowered enthusiasm may be (if it is indeed the case), it is not because Dumbo is a lesser film than the other classics. In fact, I find it to be one of the most imaginative, relatable, and emotionally resonant stories Disney ever released. Even though the special effects and animation did not push boundaries the way Fantasia did just a year before, it nevertheless remains a showcase of what animation is capable of achieving.

One thing I love about animation is that the only limit to the stories you can tell and the things you can do is your own imagination. In animated films, you can accomplish ideas that just wouldn’t work as well in live-action. Dumbo is a great example of this. And you would be hard-pressed to find a more creative, colorful, and bizarre-yet-mesmerizing scene in any other medium than the “pink elephants on parade” sequence. So while it may not be a technical marvel, the cartoon style works very well for this film.

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But Dumbo doesn’t only excel in its artistic creativity. It also tells a moving story that just about everyone will relate to. Dumbo is born to a loving mother, but almost immediately he is mocked and ridiculed by others for having very big ears. Like any innocent child, at first the mocking doesn’t bother him, but later he gets separated from this mother and becomes an outcast. Eventually it all gets to him and causes him great sadness.

Each of us has our own defects, our own weaknesses. Each of us at one point or another has probably felt alone, ridiculed, and like an outcast. This makes it easy for us to relate to Dumbo and feel for him.

This movie would be a complete tragedy if not for two characters:  Dumbo’s mother and Timothy the mouse. Every scene involving Dumbo and his mother is quite resonant. The animators did a masterful job on this. The love of Dumbo’s mother for her child is easily visible, and you can also see the love and trust from the child to his mother. If somebody ever tells you cartoons can’t connect emotionally with the viewer, tell them to watch this movie. The scene where Dumbo is cradled in his mother’s trunk is a real heart breaker.

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In Timothy the mouse, we find the friend that everybody deserves to have – and that each of us ought to strive to be. It is through him that this story turns from tragedy to triumph. He quickly looks past Dumbo’s “defect” and eventually helps him to turn his handicap into a strength. It is quite inspiring, and is all the more impressive that we can learn these traits from a cartoon mouse.

These reasons give Dumbo a spot in the upper tier of the best Disney feature films. In fact, the special features on the disc show a clip where Walt Disney himself claims that Dumbo was his favorite of all the Disney films. I can’t blame him for thinking that. There is much to love in this movie.

Do not drink the water...bad, bad things will happen...

Do not drink the water…bad, bad things will happen…

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