It might be hard to believe now, but there was a time in history when Disney wasn’t one of the biggest companies on Earth. In the early days of Disney movies, the studio was often on the verge of serious financial trouble. No one in Hollywood thought the super-expensive Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would work until it made gangbusters. Pinocchio had an even bigger budget but only made half of it back. The worst blow came when Fantasia, one of the most expensive movies ever at the time, bombed at the box office.
Scaling back the budget, not the story.
After losing so much money on these movies, Disney had to seriously scale back the budgets for their newest projects. However, they didn’t scale back their ambitions. Walt and the animators wanted to make something that pushed the envelope without breaking the bank. Their solution was Dumbo, as colorful and magical as their previous movies … while only being 64 minutes long. It’s only barely feature-length, but underestimating it for this is like underestimating the main character for his ears.
Jumbo Jr. aka Dumbo
The story centers on Jumbo Jr., a baby elephant born with adult-sized ears. When the other circus elephants see him, they cruelly nickname the kid “Dumbo” and shun him and his loving mother. He becomes a lonely child on the lowest rung of the circus. All that starts to change when he finds an unlikely friend in Timothy, a chatty mouse who seeks to make him the star of the circus. After some misadventures, the duo discovers that Dumbo’s big ears can give him the power of flight.
Feel Good Movie to Tug on Your Heartstrings
The movie is a ton of fun. The circus setting provides a good excuse for colorful backdrops, exciting stunts, an assortment of animals, and (of course) some clown antics. There’s plenty of comedy throughout, and it comes from pretty much every character. The musical scenes are all memorable, from the hallucinogenic “Pink Elephants on Parade” to the jaunty “Casey Junior” to the witty and punny “When I See an Elephant Fly.” And, of course, Dumbo himself is adorable.
With that said, it’s not all fluff, either. In fact, there’s a lot more heartache in Dumbo than you might remember. Dumbo endures nonstop prejudice, torment, and humiliation, especially from his fellow elephants. Saddest of all is that his mother gets imprisoned for protecting him. But all this pain just makes the ending more miraculous and satisfying. The story’s not magical because an elephant learns to fly. It’s magical because, through the support of his mother and his friends, he finds the inner strength and self-confidence needed to soar.
Despite the threat of emotional whiplash, all these scenes manage to flow perfectly. The funny parts and the sad parts, the quieter parts and the action-packed parts, and everything else somehow work together. The end result is a movie that is entertaining, resonant, goofy, and powerful all at once. It makes you feel every emotion and have every reaction in just over an hour.
A Classic for the Ages
Dumbo may be rather simplistic in its style and cheap in its animation, and it’s easier to compare with their Silly Symphony animated shorts than with previous Disney movies. One might choose to see it less as a fluffy movie and more as the longest and greatest of the studio’s cartoons. However one views it, it’s an excellent and enjoyable experience for all ages and an artistic accomplishment in its own right. Dumbo is a surefire classic.
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