Thursday, March 28, 2013

Movie Review: Dumbo (1941)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Uplifting message, fun songs
Cons: Racial stereotype
The Bottom Line:
Tugs on your heart strings
Ultimately uplifting
Short but with fun songs

I've Seen Everything

Dumbo truly is an amazing film. I always forget just how long it is. Or should I say short. At only 64 minutes, it is the shortest animated movie Disney has released. Yet it is so full of emotion and laughter it feels like a much longer picture.

The story is simple. Circus elephant Mrs. Jumbo is expecting a baby. But when Jumbo Jr. arrives via stork, everyone quickly notices a problem. His ears are huge. In fact, they are so big he regularly trips over them. When his mother is locked up for trying to defend him, the nicknamed Dumbo must find his place in the circus. His only guide and friend is a mouse named Timothy. Can the two find a place for the elephant?

Out of a simple story, Disney created a masterpiece. The movie has lots of great visual gags that keep you laughing one minute. Then the next minute you'll be chocking up over a tender emotional scene.

I always forget just how much of the first part of the film has no dialogue. They use several songs like "Look out for Mr. Stork," and "Casey Jr." to tell the beginnings of the story. We also get several fun, tender, and silent scenes of Mrs. Jumbo and Dumbo bonding. In fact, the group of gossipy elephants provides most of the dialogue until Timothy shows up.

Even with all the songs in the front, my favorite songs come in the second half. "Baby Mine" is a tender lullaby that is sure to choke you up. Of course, it helps that we've got tender pictures of Dumbo reunited briefly with his mother. For a change of pace, I also love "When I See an Elephant Fly." I've always been a sucker for a good pun, and this song is just packed full of them.

Of course, that song does bring up a common complaint about the film. There are five jive talking black crows who sing that song. Can we say stereotype? While I see it now, the thought that the birds were a stereotype never once entered my head as a kid. Now I find it rather ironic that it's here in a movie about not letting others look down on you. Either way, it provides parents with a good opportunity to discuss racial issues with their kids. And it helps that the crows help Dumbo in the end.

Then there's the "Pink Elephants on Parade" sequence. This has got to be the most unusual sequence ever animated. The drawings are almost psychedelic at times, yet this is 1941. While the sequence never truly frightened me as a child, it did creep me out. And it still unnerves me. If you are looking for something to lead into an anti-drinking discussion, this is it.

This movie came out only a few years after Snow White, and its animation is better and worse at the same time. Gone are the realistic drawings of Snow White. Instead we get caricatures of both man (who only has four fingers total on each hand) and beast, although the animals come out looking pretty good. At the same time, this not quite realistic world looks amazing. The colors are much more vivid, and there are little touches throughout the movie that show Disney was still trying new things, even in a movie made as cheaply and quickly as possible.

The reason this movie works so well is that everyone can relate to it. We've all been picked on. We've all felt some loss, whether legitimate or not. So we can all relate to Dumbo and his struggles to be included, accepted, and loved. That leads to the heart rending emotions of much of the middle and the absolute joy of the climax. Sometimes, I still want to cheer him on.

It may be short, but Dumbo is a real gem. It's something the entire family can enjoy. So sit back and watch an entertaining classic.

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