Prancing Pink Pachyderms
"Dumbo" is one of those iconic Disney movies which even if you have never watched you will know so much about that you feel you must have watched it. That is the rather ironic situation I found myself in when I had an hour to spare and thought I would watch "Dumbo" again only to discover that I had never watched it before. Yet despite already knowing what happens, having seen various scenes from the Stork delivering Dumbo to the surreal pink elephant musical number I am glad I did because it made me realise why "Dumbo" is so iconic. This relatively short movie has charm, humour, emotion as well as a surprising dark side, it has wonderful musical scenes and simple but lovely animations but more importantly this simple animation has a story you can connect to, the tale of success following adversity which in a strange kind of way makes "Dumbo" an inspirational movie.
As the storks deliver little bundles of joy to the animals in the WDP circus Mrs. Jumbo is left waiting, that is until the circus sets off for a new tour and a stork drops by with a very special package, her baby elephant who thanks to his big ears becomes known as Dumbo. Mocked because of his jumbo sized ears little Dumbo finds himself often humiliated and side lined to work with the clowns but thankfully he has a friend in Timothy Q. Mouse who sets about making Dumbo be all he can be.
It is said that Walt Disney wasn't interested in making "Dumbo" till the writers cleverly serialised their story leaving an episode on Walt's desk each day till he wanted to know what happened next. I hope that story is true because in many ways it is that connection which Walt had with the story which we also have and keeps us watching to the end. And the simple reason why we connect is because beneath all the imaginative fantasy of talking elephants the story is tangible as we have the child who is teased and mocked by others but then goes on to prove them all wrong. As I mentioned "Dumbo" is in effect an inspirational tale and one so easy to connect to which maybe why it is still so popular.
Of course the story is not just the only reason why and there is a lot of fun and cuteness going on which will make both adults and children laugh. From the initial unfurling of Dumbo's jumbo ears to the scene where he and Timothy accidentally get drunk there is so many iconic fun moments, beautifully animated. But there are also plenty more darker iconic scenes and by that I am talking about the surreal and frankly rather scary Pink Elephant musical number. You sort of wonder what was going through the creators head when they included this scene because it is for a children's animation quite shocking yet at the same time the cleverness of it is something which should now be admired.
What this means is that "Dumbo" ends up quite a strange mix of a movie because you have cuteness, humour, musical elements but also darkness. It almost seems like it is trying to be extreme because you go from something cute as Dumbo wrapped up in his mum's trunk to him tearfully having to say good bye. You have the humour of a drunk Dumbo blowing funny shaped bubbles followed by the surreal Pink Elephant scene. And then there are the Crows who may give us the classic "When I See an Elephant Fly" but also throw up a lot of criticism over the racial elements. It makes "Dumbo" a movie which works for both adults and children but still a little strange at that.
What this all boils down to is that "Dumbo" is such an iconic movie that even if you have never watched it you will feel like you have. It is thoroughly entertaining with a strange mix of humour, cuteness, musical numbers as well as some quite scary ones but it also features a timeless story which is the real reason why even now 70 years after "Dumbo" was released it is still as popular as ever.