Walt Disney Productions
Ashe never got to see a ton of modern classics from his youth, so we’re making him watch them all as a nostalgia-less adult. Check out the inaugural article for more info.
Before you get the idea that I skipped out on watching a bunch of Disney movies as a kid, I’d like to point out that I’ve seen most of them, but not all. (How many of you can honestly say you’ve seen The Black Cauldron?) I grew up with three brothers, so I especially missed out on the princess themed ones, i.e., Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. Disney also had that silly policy back in the 80’s and 90’s where their home videos were only put out in limited releases, which they still do, but I don’t think it’s nearly to the same degree, especially not with piracy as popular as it is. (And, again, keep in mind that video tapes were incredibly expensive for the first several years of their existence.)
So yeah, I totally missed Dumbo. But I bet I can tell you something right now that would surprise you even if you saw it dozens of times as a kid: Dumbo is only 60 minutes long. It’s pretty much exactly a full hour, no more, no less. Apparently, this was a calculated move on Walt Disney’s part. Fantasia cost the studio so much money that they took no chances with Dumbo. They went with a simple, heartwarming story, slightly less fancy animation and art (though still just as good, if not better, than any animation produced today), and a short runtime to save on money. Less film to animate is less money spent, after all.
And once you notice that, you notice other little shortcuts, too. For example, the only named character in the whole movie is Dumbo himself. And his name isn’t even Dumbo. It’s Jumbo Jr. Dumbo is just a shitty nickname the other asshole elephants gave him. Dumbo’s mom? Just Mrs. Jumbo. (And she only has one speaking line, which is to give Jumbo Jr. his name.) The other elephants, the ringmaster, the clowns, the crows, and even Dumbo’s buddy the mouse all go completely unnamed in the film. The only reason we know Timothy Q. Mouse’s name is because of the signature on Dumbo’s contract in the ending slideshow, because no one ever says it aloud. I didn’t even notice I didn’t know his name until, toward the end of the film, the subtitles identified him as [Timothy].
Speaking of the crows a minute ago, let’s talk about that. Yes, they are the black-faciest crows you’ll ever see in a film, and it is super cringeworthy, but at least they’re mostly positive characters and not playing up too many black stereotypes. No, if you want that, you have to check out the roustabouts (who are very obviously all black men) at the beginning of the movie, where they sing (yes, a de facto negro work song) about being worked like slaves and blowing their paychecks as soon as they get them. Oof. Good old Walt.
It’s also worth noting that this is one of the few Disney film where the main character isn’t an orphan. Though Mrs. Jumbo spends most of the movie locked up, she’s still alive at the end. Mr. Jumbo is nowhere to be seen, but it’s never implied there even was a Mr. Jumbo anyway, especially since a stork brings along the baby and there’s no indication of any elephants having gotten busy at some previous point.
As for the meat of the story, it is, like I said, pretty basic. It’s based on a children’s book, after all. Poor, adorable Dumbo is born with giant ears and doesn’t even realize that anything’s wrong until his mom gets in trouble for defending him. Then, he makes friends with a mouse and gets drunk and finds out he can fly, which should be the story arc of a lot more movies, in my opinion. That’s really it. There’s not a lot of padding or interstitials to keep the story from trucking along. Perhaps the worst offender is the pink elephants scene, but without that the movie would hardly be more than 45 minutes long.
I’ve heard stories of people getting freaked out at the pink elephants segment as children, and I can certainly see why. The elephants are hollow-eyed monsters and set against a void where they mold and reform themselves into different shapes. It’s freaking creepy. And some of the elephants look pissed for some reason that goes unexplained. I guess because underage drinking is bad? Speaking of, hey, yeah, whose idea was it to get a baby elephant tanked in this movie anyway? And it ends up being a net positive, to boot, because if he hadn’t gotten totally faced with his mouse buddy, Dumbo wouldn’t have known he could fly at all. So I guess the moral is that underage drinking is good, but only if it teaches you that you have superpowers.
Also, if this movie doesn’t make you want to call your mom, you are dead inside.