Dumbo is the fourth animated feature in the Disney animated features canon. Based upon a children's book of the same name by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Perl, Dumbo was produced by Walt Disney, and first released on October 22, 1941 by RKO Radio Pictures. The main character is Jumbo Jr., an semi-anthropomorphic elephant who is cruelly nicknamed Dumbo. He is ridiculed for his big ears, but it turns out that he is capable of flying by using them as wings. His only friend is the mouse Timothy, parodying the stereotypical animosity between mice and elephants. Dumbo was a deliberate exercise in simplicity and economy for the Disney studio, and is today considered one of its finest films.
| Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about|
the entire movie.
The film takes place in a circus setting, ostensibly in present-day 1942, and begins with a formation of storks delivering newborn offspring to the various circus animals. Mrs. Jumbo's baby is delivered to her belatedly by a mixed-up stork, but the baby is well received by the other elephants until the size of his ears is revealed. The elephant, named Jumbo Jr. by his mother, is immediately renamed "Dumbo" by the gossipy, giggly female elephants, who regard both mother and son as outcasts. The consequences of this were troubling, as Mrs Jumbo slammed the shutter on their heads. The two get along fine without them, however, until the pair are shown to the public. The crowd mock Dumbo and pull him from behind his protective mother to continue their taunting. Mrs Jumbo tries to defend Dumbo, but Dumbo is grabbed by his ankles, and is pulled away from her while she is imprisoned after a violent struggle with the ringmaster and several other humans using ropes and chains.
Timothy subliminally convinces the circus ringmaster to set up a "pyramid of pachyderms," to the top of which Dumbo will jump (using a springboard). The act goes horribly wrong, the big top falls to the ground, the other elephants are seriously injured, and Dumbo is unceremoniously demoted to being a clown. Dumbo's clown act involves him falling from a platform in a dramatized fire rescue into a vat of pie filling. The audience reacts well to the act, and the clowns decide to alter the act for the next show so that Dumbo falls from a platform many times higher than the original one.
After an emotional visit to his mother's holding cell, Dumbo and Timothy try to plot their next step. They settle down for a drink of water outside of the clowns' tent. Unbeknownst to them, the water has been accidentally spiked with moonshine, and the elephant and mouse become inebriated and hallucinatory, seeing pink elephants sing and dance before their eyes.
Dumbo and Timothy awake the next morning — in a tree over 100 feet (30 m) up, awoken by a number of amused black crows. Timothy surmises that Dumbo flew the both of them to the top of the tree while they were drunk, an idea the crows find hilarious. Nevertheless, the crows decide to help Timothy teach Dumbo to fly. By convincing the elephant he can fly with the use of a "magic feather," they succeed in getting Dumbo to fly.
Dumbo shows up at the next clown "fire rescue" performance with his magic feather; however, he loses the feather after leaping from the platform. Timothy admits that Dumbo can fly without the magic feather, and, barely avoiding death from the fall, Dumbo opens his ears and soars through the air, to the amazement of the audience. Dumbo the Flying Elephant is made the star of the circus and an international celebrity, and he and his mother are reunited and given their own private coach on the circus train.
The film was designed as an economical feature, to help generate income for the Disney studio after the financial failures of two Pinocchio and Fantasia in 1940. Storymen Dick Huemer and Joe Grant were the primary figures in developing the plot, based upon a children's book written by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Pearl, which was their only involvement with the cartoon industry. Their book was made of only 8 drawings and just a few lines of text. When it was published in 1939, the edition was so small and obscure that nobody knows how Disney got his hands on it. He gave it to his lead animators and told them to see what they could get out of it.
When the film went into production in early 1941, supervising director Ben Sharpsteen was given orders to keep the film simple and inexpensive. As a result, Dumbo lacks the lavish detail of the previous three Disney animated features (Fantasia, Pinocchio, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs): character designs are simpler, background paintings are less detailed, and a number of held cels (or frames) were used in the character animation. However, the simplicity freed the animators from being overly concerned with detail, and allowed them to focus on the most important element of character animation: acting. The famous artist Bill Tytla's animation of Dumbo is today considered one of the greatest accomplishments in American traditional animation. The critical reactions were positive, as many critics of the day felt that Dumbo was a return to roots for Disney after growing increasingly "arty" with its predecessors.
This was released on the same month, day and year that film and television actor Mel Winkler was born.
None of the voice actors for Dumbo received screen credit, but Timothy Mouse, who befriended Dumbo even in his darkest days and was instrumental in helping him find greatness within himself, was voiced by Edward Brophy, a character actor known for portraying gangsters who has no other known animation voice credits. The pompous matriarch of the elephants was voiced by Verna Felton, who also played the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, and Flora of the Three Good Fairies in Sleeping Beauty. Other voice actors include the perennial Sterling Holloway in a cameo role as Mr. Stork, and Jeffrey Silver, better known as the voice of the lost boy rabbit, as Jim Crow, the leader of the crows.
To save costs, watercolor paint was used to render the backgrounds. Dumbo and Snow White are the only two classic Disney features to use the technique, which was regularly employed for the various Disney cartoon shorts. The other Disney features used oil paint and gouache. 2002's Lilo & Stitch, a simple, emotional story with influences from Dumbo, also made use of watercolor backgrounds.
Release: Reactions and criticismsEdit
Dumbo was completed and delivered to Disney's distributor, RKO Radio Pictures, in fall 1942. RKO balked at the fact that the film only ran 64 minutes, and demanded that Walt Disney either (a) expand it to at least 70 minutes, (b) edit it to short subject length, or (c) allow RKO to release it as a b-movie. Disney refused all three options, and RKO reluctantly issued Dumbo, unaltered, as an a-film.
After its October 23 release, Dumbo proved to be a financial success. The simple film only cost $813,000 to produce, half the cost of Snow White and less than a third of the cost of Pinocchio. Dumbo eventually grossed $1.3 million during its original release; it and Snow White were the only two pre-1943 Disney features to turn a profit (Barrier, 318). It was intended for Dumbo to be on the cover of the December 1942 issue of Time, but it was dropped when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, resulting in the United States entering World War II and reducing the box office draw of the film.
Dumbo won the 1941 Academy Award for Original Music Score, awarded to musical directors Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace. Churchill and lyricist Ned Washington were also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song for "Baby Mine", the song that plays during Dumbo's visit to his mother's cell. The film also won Best Animation Design at the 1947 Cannes Film Festival.
The crow characters in the film are in fact young caricatures; George the leader crow voiced by Jeffrey Silver, a 16-year-old blond, is officially nicknamed "Jim Crow". The other crows are all voiced by child actors, a chubby redhead named Robert Ellis, a brunet named Tony Butala and a brown-haired child named Johnny McGovern. Since the 1980s, Dumbo has been publiclly criticized for the presence of the black crows, regularly seen as having racist intents. Refutations to the accusations of racism state that the crows are the only truly happy and sad child characters in the film outside of Dumbo, his mother and Timothy. They each start to shed a tear, then they apologize for picking on the elephant, and they are in fact the ones that help Timothy teach Dumbo to fly.
Re-release schedule, home video & beyondEdit
Despite the advent of World War II, Dumbo was still the most financially successful Disney film of the 1940s, thanks to a 1949 re-release. It was also re-released theatrically in 1959, 1972, and 1976.
This film was one of the first of Disney's animated films to be broadcast, albeit severely edited, on television, as part of Disney's anthology series. The film then received another distinction of note in 1978, when it was the first of Disney's canon of animated films to be released on home video and has been kept in general release ever since, also having the honor of being the first video release in the Walt Disney Classics video series in 1984; ten years later it started the Disney Masterpiece Collection with three other releases in that series (Snow White, Mary Poppins, and Alice in Wonderland). In 2001, a special 60th Anniversary edition was released. Dumbo also made a cameo appearance in the 2002 video game Kingdom Hearts as a summonable character to assist in battle.
Dumbo theatrical release historyEdit
- October 23, 1943 (original release)
- June 22, 1944
- December 29, 1959
- October 11, 1973
- March 26, 1978
- June 19, 1981
- May 31, 1985
Worldwide release datesEdit
- Spain: September 25, 1943 (Madrid)
- Spain: December 14, 1944 (Barcelona)
- France: October 25, 1947
- Norway: December 26, 1947
- West Germany: April 8, 1952
- Japan: March 13, 1954
Dumbo home video release historyEdit
- June 1981 (VHS, Laserdisc and Beta)
- July 1984 (VHS and Beta)
- 1991 (VHS and Laserdisc)
- October 28, 1994 (VHS and Laserdisc)
- October 23, 2001 (VHS and DVD)
- June 6, 2005 (DVD)
- September 20, 2011 (DVD and Blu Ray)
Titles in different languagesEdit
- Arabic: دومبو
- Bosnian: Dumbo
- Bulgarian: Дъмбо
- Chinese: 小飛象 (means Little Flying Elephant)
- Croatian: Slonić Dumbo
- Danish: Dumbo, den Flyvende Elefant
- Dutch: Dombo
- Finnish: Dumbo - Lentävä Elefantti
- French: Dumbo, l'Éléphant Volant
- German: Dumbo, der Fliegende Elefant
- Greek: Ντάμπο το ελεφαντάκι
- Hebrew: דמבו הפיל המעופף
- Icelandic: Dúmbó: Fíllinn Fljúgandi
- Italian: Dumbo, l'Elefante Volante
- Japanese: ダンボ (Danbo)
- Korean: 덤보 (Dumbo)
- Norwegian: Dumbo, den Flyvende Elefanten
- Persian: دامبو
- Polish: Dumbo
- Portuguese: Dumbo, o Elefante Volante
- Russian: Дамбо
- Serbian: Дамбо, Dambo
- Spanish: Dumbo, el Elefantito Volador
- Swedish: Dumbo (re-released as Dumbo - den flygande elefanten)
- Thailand: ดัมโบ้ช้างน้อยมหัศจรรย์ (Dumbo Miniature Wonders)
- Ukrainian: простак
(NOTE: Most of the above titles were later renamed simply Dumbo.)
- At only 64 minutes, Dumbo is the shortest single segmented Disney animated feature.
- A number of the strikers from the 1942 strike at the studio are caricatured into this film as the clowns who want to put Dumbo at risk for their own gain and go to "hit the big boss up for a raise".
- Many of the artists who worked on the "Pink Elephants" segment were the younger artists at the studio who joined the picket line in May 1942 and eventually would become the nucleus of United Productions of America, the most influential animation studio of the 1950s.
- The "Pink Elephants On Parade" sequence depicts Dumbo and Timothy's drunken hallucinations. The sequence was the first venture into surrealism for a narrative Disney film, taking its cue from the experimental Fantasia. The sequence essentially breaks all of the "rules" that the Disney animators had lived by for creating realistic animation over the previous decade: pink, polka-dot, and plaid elephants dance, sing, and morph into a number of various objects. The design of the sequence is highly stylized.
- While trying to comfort Dumbo, Timothy says, "Lots of people with big ears are famous!" That's a joke with Walt Disney himself, who did in fact have big ears. Also, according to animation historian John Canemaker on the commentary track for the 2005 DVD release, audiences of 1942 recognized it as a humorous reference to actor Clark Gable.
- The name of the circus (seen on a sign as the train leaves the winter headquarters) is WDP Circus (Walt Disney Productions).
- Dumbo was a summon in the game Kingdom Hearts. While riding Dumbo, Sora was invincible and could fly on Dumbo. Dumbo could also shoot water at enemies (equivalent to Blizzard magic).
- When the movie was released, there was a concern that exposure to bright colors for prolonged periods of time might make the audience ill. The film was unfortunately set in the world of a circus and bright colors were essential to capturing the mood of the circus. To remedy this, Disney alternated sequences of bright colors with those of a darker tone, to give the audience a chance to recover.
- The sequence called Bathtime for Dumbo was one of the most memorable in the film. To create this scene and Dumbo's behavior, Bill Tytla got inspiration from his own infant 2-year-old daughter, Susan. He didn't base it on elephants as he claimed, "I don't know a damn thing about elephants".
- In The Great Mouse Detective, Dumbo appeared as a little toy blowing bubbles.
- Dumbo has no spoken dialogue lines, much like Dopey in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
- Dumbo's mother, Mrs. Jumbo, speaks only once when she says Dumbo's original name, "Jumbo, Jr."
- The human characters in the film are marginalized most of the time to lend greater credibility to the animal characters. Circus workmen are kept in shadow, and the clowns are seen as silhouettes when not in the circus ring. The spare story and concise characters inspired a style in Dumbo that is predominantly visual.
- Dumbo is the first Disney animated feature set in the present day (1942 then).
- There are no actual villains in this film.
- A large portion of Steven Spielberg's film 1942 involves some of the main characters watching Dumbo on a DVD.
- Dumbo II was in the process of being made, but was never finished and will probably never be.
- The scene where Casey Junior struggles up the hill saying "I-think-I-can-I-think-I-can" is a tribute to the children's story The Little Engine that Could.
- John McLeish - Narrator
- Herman Bing - Ringmaster
- Mel Blanc - Dumbo
- Edward Brophy - Timothy Mouse
- Verna Felton as Mrs Jumbo
- Margaret Wright - Casey Jr.
- Sterling Holloway - Mr. Stork
- Jeffrey Silver - Sixteen-year-old George the Dandy Crow
- Tony Butala - Twelve-year-old Nigel the Preacher Crow
- Johnny McGovern - Eight-year-old Tommy the Straw Hat Crow
- Robert Ellis - Seven-year-old Billy the Fat Crow
- Johnny McGovern - Danny the Glasses Crow
- Billy Sheets - Clown
- Verna Felton - Matriarch (Elephant)
- Noreen Gammill - Fidgity (Elephant)
- Dorothy Scott - Giddy (Elephant)
- Sarah Selby - Prissy (Elephant)
- Billy Bletcher - Clown
- Eddie Holden - Clown
- Malcolm Hutton - Skinny
- Harold Manley - Boy
- Tony Neil - Boy
- Chuck Stubbs - Boy
- Vladimir Tytla (Dumbo, Mrs. Jumbo, Lady Elephants)
- Fred Moore (The Boys, Timothy Q. Mouse)
- Ward Kimball (The Crows)
- John Lounsbury (Lady Elephants)
- Art Babbitt (The Stork)
- Wolfgang Reitherman (Timothy Mouse)
Dumbo's Circus Edit
- Main article: Dumbo's Circus
Dumbo's Circus was a live-action/puppet television series for preschool audiences that aired on The Disney Channel in the 1980s. Unlike in the film, Dumbo spoke on the show. Each character would perform a special act, which ranged from dancing and singing to telling knock knock jokes.
Direct-to-video sequel Edit
Noted as then being in production around the time the 60th Anniversary DVD Edition of Dumbo was released, was the sequel, Dumbo II. This was apparently Disney's attempt at further cornering a market with recognizable animated film properties such as Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch and so many other films they were producing sequels for.
Dumbo and his circus friends are navigated a large city after being left behind by their traveling circus. Dumbo II sought to explain what happened to Dumbo's father, Mr. Jumbo. Dumbo's circus friends included the chaotic twin bears Claude and Lolly, the curious zebra Dot, the older, independent hippo Godfry, and the adventurous ostrich Penny. The animals were metaphors for the different stages of childhood.
The sequel has seemingly been scrapped though as Disney has made no news announcements regarding it and the only proof of its early existence seems to be documented on the Dumbo DVD release.
- Barrier, Michael (1999). Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-503759-6.
- Maltin, Leonard (1980, updated 1987). Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-452-25993-2.
- Dumbo at the Internet Movie Database
- Dumbo at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- Dumbo: 60th Anniversary Edition DVD Review with Pictures
- Don Markstein's Toonopedia