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Film Review: Dumbo

Updated on December 26, 2016

Background

In 1941, Ben Sharpsteen, Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Bill Roberts, Jack Kinney, and Samuel Armstrong released Dumbo, based on the children's story of the same name by Helen Aberson. Starring Edward Brophy, Herman Bing, Margaret Wright, Sterling Holloway, Verna Felton, and Cliff Edwards, the film grossed $1.6 million at the box office.

Synopsis

When circus elephant Mrs. Jumbo receives a new baby with incredibly large ears, she names him Jumbo Jr. The child is mocked for his ears and ends up all alone following Jumbo defending him. Referring to him as Dumbo, none of the other elephants want anything to do with him and he continues to be placed into comic relief roles night after night.

Review

While not exactly a bad film, Dumbo really isn’t anywhere near good. A notable aspect it has going for it is apart from the one kid who bullied Dumbo in one scene, there is no true antagonist to be found. The other elephants do hate him and acte like he didn't exist outside of shows. Nevertheless, they do have a point at times, especially with Dumbo ruining the climax of their act which ends up hurting them. The ringmaster isn’t a villain either as locking away Jumbo and sending Dumbo to the clowns was an effort to maintain and protect all the aspects of his circus. He's trying to put on a good show, figure out what his audience wants and make whatever money he can to keep the lights on. His logic surrounding the decision to make Dumbo a clown is he believes it's best for business. Further, none of the clowns are antagonists towards Dumbo, considering they're just doing their jobs and some of them express concern for his welfare. The only other prominent characters Timothy and Dumbo meet are the crows who do nothing more than amicably tease them and articulate their surprise at the notion of an elephant flying before helping Dumbo do so. The lone reason the kid who does legitimately antagonize Dumbo has any of the markings of an antagonist is due to him setting off the chain of events making up the plot. Aside from his one appearance, he has no bearing on the rest of the film.

Additionally, it's fascinating the best part of the film is the weirdest scenes in the film. Dumbo and Timothy spend an evening imbibing in alcohol and wind up hallucinating a musical number involving pink elephants on parade. It's a great combination of hilarious and creepy imagery that would define many other bizarre moments in Disney films.

However, regardless of the above, the plot is really just flat. Dumbo isn't the main focus despite him being the title character. Instead, the film spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on everyone else's reactions to Dumbo and what they make of him. What little time the film does spend focusing on him simply shows what he's doing before switching back to all the other characters. One occasion has the other elephants vowing Dumbo is no longer one of them and the film immediately goes about introducing Timothy. LIkewise, upon Dumbo discovering his ability to fly, the focus is on the crows helping him and what they are doing in their assistance. It could be explained the film doesn't spend much time focusing on Dumbo is because he's still a baby and therefore unable to talk. Yet, it's distracting how the main and titular character isn't the main focus of the film.

The pacing is a problem too. Where many Disney films are about an hour and a half, this is just over an hour and it feels very rushed. It feels like the scenes don't bridge into each other in their path towards the climax. Rather it feels as if they're rushing to get onto the next scene. Reaching the scene with the crows and magic feather didn’t feel very satisfactory as it didn’t seem like there was enough build to it.

2 stars for Dumbo

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinions.

Awards won

Academy Awards

  • Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture

Cannes Film Festival

  • Best Animation Design

National Board of Review

  • Top Ten Films

Nominated for

Academy Awards

  • Best Music, Original Song (For the song "Baby Mine.")


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