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Dumbo is a 1941 American animated film produced by Walt Disney Productions and released by RKO Radio Pictures. As the fourth animated feature in the Disney Animated Canon, the film is based upon the book written by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Pearl for the prototype of a novelty toy ("Roll-a-Book"). The story centers Dumbo, a baby elephant, who is ridiculed for his abnormally large ears. Under the tutelage of Timothy Q. Mouse, Dumbo comes to learn that his ears grant him the ability to fly.

Following the financial losses of Pinocchio and Fantasia, Dumbo was produced with a relatively lower budget. Its story and animation were deliberately simple, and at 64 minutes, it is one of Disney's shortest full length features. Upon release, Dumbo was a major success and became iconic for WWII as it was hailed by critics and audiences as a joyous film, appropriate for such vulgar times.

The film is among the most acclaimed animated movies of all time, receiving praise for its emotion, message, and music. It received numerous accolades, including an Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, and nominations on several AFI lists. The success of Dumbo has led to numerous spinoffs, such as a television series, a popular theme park attraction, and a live-action adaptation, which was released theatrically in 2019.

The film is also a personal favorite of the late Walt Disney himself, and of other personalities, like Leonard Maltin, Floyd Norman, and John Lasseter.

Plot[]

The film takes place in a circus in Florida, in present-day of March 1941, and starts with a formation of storks delivering newborn babies to various circus animals. Mrs. Jumbo's baby is delivered to her belatedly by an exhausted stork, and the baby is well-received by the others - until the size of his ears are revealed after he sneezes. He, nicknamed "Dumbo", is teased by them. Mrs. Jumbo ignores them, however, until she is imprisoned as a "mad elephant" after trying to defend him from a crowd of antagonizing boys. A mouse named Timothy befriends him, and crafts a plan to make him a star in the circus.

Timothy subliminally convinces the Ringmaster (in his sleep) to set up a "pyramid of pachyderms," to the top of which Dumbo will jump (using a springboard). Due to his long ears, the act fails, the big top falls to the ground, the other elephants are injured, the circus has to relocate, and Dumbo is unceremoniously reduced to a clown. His clown act involves falling from an enormous platform in a dramatized fire rescue into a vat of pie filling. The audience responds well to the act, and the clowns decide to alter the act for the next show so that Dumbo will fall from a platform many times higher than the original one.

After an emotional visit to Mrs. Jumbo's cell, Timothy tries to cheer up Dumbo, who could not stop crying. They settle down for a drink of water outside the clowns' tent. Unknown to them, the water has been accidentally spiked with champagne by the clowns, and they 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 up, awoken by a gaggle of amused crows. Timothy guesses that Dumbo flew them to the top of the tree while they were drunk, an idea that the crows find hilarious. After Timothy tells them Dumbo's pitiful story, they decide to help Timothy teach Dumbo to fly. They convinced him that he can fly with the use of a "magic feather," and succeed in getting him to fly.

Dumbo shows up at his next clown performance with his magic feather, however, he loses it after leaping from the platform. Timothy admits to Dumbo that he can fly without it, and, barely avoiding death from the fall, he opens his ears and soars through the air, to the amazement of the audience. A series of headlines read "Elephant Flies!", followed by ones showing Dumbo as a circus star, Timothy Mouse signing a Hollywood contract, and the Army commissioning a squadron of "Dumbo bombers" to support the war effort. The film ends with where Mrs. Jumbo is freed and given a private coach on Casey Junior, the circus tender engine who was seen earlier in the film. The circus elephants are singing alongside the crows in a reprise of "When I See an Elephant Fly", as Dumbo is flying is formation with the Crows, then lands to be alongside his mother while the Crows land on a telephone pole, wishing Dumbo luck in his new success.

Cast (uncredited)[]

Production[]

The film was designed as an economical feature, to help generate income for the Disney studio after the financial failures of both Pinocchio and Fantasia in 1940. Storymen Dick Huemer and Joe Grant were the primary figures in developing the plot, based upon a manuscript written by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl for a children's book.

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 smaller number of 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. Bill Tytla's animation of Dumbo is today considered one of the greatest accomplishments in American traditional animation.

On May 29, 1941, during the production on the film, much of the Disney studio staff went on strike. Some have interpretied the clowns' requests to get a raise from their boss being a reference to the Disney animators that went on strike in 1941 (during the creation of the film), demanding higher pay from Walt himself. Animator and strike organizer Art Babbitt denied this, saying he had been assigned to animate the sequence before the strike.

Timothy Mouse was voiced by Edward Brophy, a character actor known for portraying gangsters who have no other known animation voice credits. The pompous matriarch of the elephants was voiced by Verna Felton, who would later play the Fairy Godmother from Cinderella and Flora from Sleeping Beauty. Other voice actors include the perennial Sterling Holloway in a cameo role as Mr. Stork, and Cliff Edwards, better previously known for voicing Jiminy Cricket, as Dandy (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 animated shorts. The other Disney features used oil paint and gouache. 2002's Lilo & Stitch, a simple, emotional story with influences from Dumbo, also makes use of watercolor backgrounds.

Release and reaction[]

The film was completed and delivered to Disney's distributor, RKO Radio Pictures, in fall 1941. RKO balked at the fact that it only ran 64 minutes, and demanded that Walt Disney either:

  • (a.) expand it to 70 minutes or more
  • (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.

Upon its October 23 release, the film proved to be a major financial success. It 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. The United States entered World War II in December 1941, reducing the box office draw of the film, which was nevertheless the most financially successful Disney film of the 1940s, thanks to a 1949 re-release.

The film won the 1941 Academy Award for Original Music Score, awarded to musical directors Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace. Churchill and lyricist Ned Washington were nominated for the 1941 Academy Award for Best Song for Baby Mine, the song that plays during Dumbo's visit to Mrs. Jumbo's cell. The film also won Best Animation Design at the 1947 Cannes Film Festival.

The film's simplicity and charm have made it the favorite Disney one of many people, including film and animation historian Leonard Maltin. Of particular note is the "Pink Elephants on Parade" sequence, which 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 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, and many of the artists who worked on it were the younger artists at the studio who joined the picket line in May 1941 and eventually would become the nucleus of United Productions of America, the most influential animation studio of the 1950s.

The crows in the film are in fact African-American caricatures; the leader crow, voiced by Caucasian actor Cliff Edwards, was named "Jim Crow", but temporarily renamed "Dandy Crow" in later years, since the 1950s, in an attempt to avoid controversy, and used also in Dumbo-related materials.[1][2] The original name was supposed to be a just a sarcastic mockery to the Jim Crow laws in the Southern USA, a "cartoony jab",[3] but no name is mentioned in the film anyway. Actually, the character is still called "Dandy Crow" in the film's cutting continuity, contained in the Walt Disney Archives, but both the names were used in later years, after a time using just the new name.[4] The other crows are voiced by African-American people, all members of the Hall Johnson Choir. Though the film is often criticized for the inclusion of the black crows, it is notable that they are the only truly sympathetic characters in the film outside of Dumbo, Mrs. Jumbo, and Timothy. They apologize for picking on Dumbo and Timothy, and they are in fact the ones that help Timothy teach the little elephant to fly. It is also notable that they never mocked Dumbo for his big ears, and they are not based on the Stepin Fetchit stereotype common in the previous decade. Among the defenders of the crows are Floyd Norman,[5][6] Whoopi Goldberg,[7] Leonard Maltin, Micheal Wilmington, Alex Wainer,[8][9] Neal Gabler, Eric Goldberg, John Canemaker,[10] John Grant, and the chief animator of the characters Ward Kimball.

The film received another distinction of note in 1981, when it was the first of Disney's canon of animated films to be released on home video.

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 98% of the critics gave the film a positive review based on 37 reviews.

Home media[]

Main article: Dumbo (video)

Worldwide release dates[]

Difference between the film and the book[]

In the original story, Mrs. Jumbo's original name was Ella. She was not locked away after defending Dumbo from some bullies. A character named Jack would announce the pyramid of pachyderms, not the Ringmaster. Timothy Mouse was originally Red the Robin. There was also Professor Hoot Owl, who taught him how to fly instead of the Crows. Ella named her baby just Jumbo, not Jumbo Jr. The Gossipy Elephants praised him for his big ears instead of shunning him. He was thrown into a donkey car by Jack and the Ringmaster, and on his pail they have crossed out J into a D for Dumbo, different from the elephants immediately renaming him that. He talks in the novel but not in the film.

Cancelled direct-to-video sequel[]

In 2001, the "60th Anniversary Edition" VHS and DVD of Dumbo featured a sneak peek of Dumbo II, including new character designs and storyboards. Robert C. Ramirez (Joseph: King of Dreams) was to direct it, in which Dumbo and his circus friends navigated a large city after being left behind by their traveling circus. It also 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. It was supposed to be set on the day immediately following the end of the first film. John Lasseter cancelled it soon after being named Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2006.

Some of the backgrounds created for Dumbo II were used in The Fox and the Hound 2.

Other appearances[]

Dumbo appears in the first Kingdom Hearts game as a summon spell. When Sora is riding him, he is invulnerable and sprays water at the enemies (which counts as ice magic). When the time limit expires, he disappears. Sometimes Timothy helps him play the tuba in the Mickey Mouse Revue.

Dumbo makes a cameo appearance in the Toy Shop in The Great Mouse Detective as a toy that blows bubbles from his nose.

Gallery[]

Wiki
The Disney Wiki has a collection of images and media related to Dumbo (1941 film).

Videos[]


Trivia[]

  • The film's copyright was renewed on September 5, 1968.[11]
  • Dumbo was supposed to appear on the cover of TIME magazine for the first week of December as their "Animal of the Year", but the December 7 bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese overshadowed him.
  • Spike.com ranks the circus 6th in their list The Top 10 Hollywood Villains Who Got Totally Screwed under the section What people Forget it quotes Wikipedia saying "Despite their popularity in zoos...elephants are among the world's most dangerous animals. They can crush and kill any other land animal, even the rhinoceros. They can experience unexpected bouts of rage, and can be vindictive."
    • Then in their own words it says "Mrs. Jumbo attacked one of their patrons. When they attempted to subdue her, she threw several of them across the room through walls, and actually tried to drown the Ringmaster. There is no justification for her still being alive by the end of the film. Even if animal control didn't require that animals known to pose a danger to humans be put down, the parents of the snot-nosed little kid she attacked would have raised all hell over the incident. The fact that the circus locked her up when they should legally have had her destroyed seems to show that they aren't animal-hating bastards, but are actually animal lovers to the point of criminal negligence."
  • In Steven Spielberg's 1979 movie 1941, a few clips of the film were seen in a theater where General Stillwell (played by Robert Stack) goes to, since that was the same year it was released.
  • Story men Joe Grant and Dick Huemer wrote up the film as installments which they left on Walt's desk every morning. After reading them, he would run into the story department saying, "This is great! What happens next?"
  • The film is considered to be "The most emotional film in Disney history".
  • According to the newspaper at the end, it should be noted that the setting of the film took place in March 1941, making it the first Disney film to be set in the year it was released. This would not occur again until One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
  • It was the first Walt Disney animated feature to be set in America, and the first movie for Sterling Holloway (Mr. Stork) and Verna Felton (the Elephant Matriarch/Mrs. Jumbo). Both would become regulars in Disney animated films for the next thirty-five years.
  • The film was the first Walt Disney Animated Classic to be released on videocassette. Its first video release was in June 1981 for rental only, and put on sale in summer 1982. It was then repackaged in November 1985 and September 1989 and again in July 1991 and October 1994. Then it was first released on DVD in 2001 and again in 2006, and the newest release in 2011. It has never gone out of print, thus considered the longest Disney animated feature on video to be in print since it came out. It is also the top film that has been re-released on DVD and VHS in movie history.
  • The name of the circus (seen on a sign as the train leaves the winter headquarters) is WDP Circus (Walt Disney Productions).
  • The voice line in the movie from Casey Junior, the train, where he says "all aboard" was originally from the 1941 movie The Reluctant Dragon, which was released in June 1941, on the scene showing the sound recording area of the Walt Disney studios, coincidentally, that film marked Casey's first appearance on the cinema screen as Dumbo wouldn't be released until October.
  • The film is the sixth Disney animated classic to have the 2006 Walt Disney Pictures logo at the end, on current releases.
  • In order to keep the audience focused on the animals, only two human characters have their faces clearly visible: the Ringmaster and Smitty, the bully kid. All the others are shown with low quality details or faceless (the various crowds and workers), kept in the dark (the circus builders), hidden under makeup (the clowns) or only visible as silhouettes (the clowns again and Joe).
  • The movie has a somewhat circular structure, because it opens with white storks flying and closes with black crows flying in a similar formation.
  • This film has more (if not the most) plot changes in printed/book adaptations compared to other Disney films. The amount of changes vary depending on the book, but the most common change usually involves the exclusion of the "Pink Elephants on Parade" sequence. It would usually be replaced with a scene of Dumbo falling asleep and having a dream about flying, before ending up in the tree the next morning. In addition to this:
    • Sometimes, the circus would make Dumbo into a clown after his mother gets locked up and before he meets Timothy.
    • Sometimes, Dumbo actually practices flying (resulting in many failed attempts) before he and Timothy get help from the crows. Additionally, Timothy would sometimes get the idea that Dumbo could be able to fly early after they first meet.
    • Sometimes, at the end, Dumbo is able to fly perfectly after jumping from the clown platform but loses his feather mid-flight. Like the film, Timothy helps Dumbo to pull himself back up in the air.
    • In a few adaptations, Dumbo is not as naïve as he is in the beginning of the film, notably being on the verge of crying after his ears are revealed and the circus elephants give him his nickname. Sometimes, he even has the ability to talk, notably in the Wonderful World of Reading adaptation by Random House in 1978.
    • Starting in 2019, by the release of the live-action remake, book adaptations of the original film remove any appearances or references of the Crows.
  • As of January 2021, Disney has pulled this film, along with Peter Pan, Swiss Family Robinson, and The Aristocats, from children's profiles on Disney+ due to the "negative connotations concerning racist stereotypes".

References[]

External links[]


v - e - d
Dumbo Logo
Media
Films: Dumbo (soundtrack/video) • Dumbo (2019) (soundtrack/video)

Television: Mickey Mouse ClubDumbo's CircusHouse of Mouse
Books: The Art and Making of Dumbo
Video Games: Disney's Villains' RevengeDisney Emoji Blitz
Cancelled projects: Dumbo II

Disney Parks
Casey Jr. Circus TrainCasey Jr. Splash 'n' Soak StationDisney Animation BuildingDumbo the Flying ElephantGames of the BoardwalkSmellephants on Parade

Entertainment: AnimagiqueFantasmic!Once Upon a Mouse
Restaurants: Timothy's Treats
Shops: Casey Jr. Trinket Train
Parades: Disney's Dreams On Parade: Moving OnFlights of Fantasy ParadeFestival of Fantasy ParadeHappiness is Here ParadeJubilation!Main Street Electrical ParadeMickey's Storybook ExpressThe Wonderful World of Disney Parade (The Float)
Fireworks: Celebrate the MagicDisneyland ForeverHappily Ever AfterMagical: Disney's New Nighttime Spectacular of Magical CelebrationsMomentousOnce Upon a TimeRemember... Dreams Come TrueWonderful World of AnimationWondrous Journeys
Halloween: Happy Hallowishes

Characters
Original: DumboTimothy Q. MouseMrs. JumboCircus ElephantsRingmasterMr. StorkCasey JuniorPink ElephantsThe CrowsCircus AnimalsClownsSmitty

Dumbo's Circus: LionelFair DinkumQ.T.BarnabyLilliSebastianFlip & FlapLittle Bo PeepLittle Red Riding HoodBig Bad Wolf
Remake: Holt FarrierV.A. VandevereColette MarchantMilly FarrierMax MediciJoe FarrierMiss AtlantisRongoPuckPramesh SinghIvan the WonderfulCatherine the GreaterNeils SkelligJ. Griffin RemingtonSothebyHans BrugelbeckerRufus SorghumBaritone BatesCircus Cook

Songs
Look Out for Mr. StorkCasey, Jr.RoustaboutsBaby MineHit the Big BossPink Elephants on ParadeWhen I See an Elephant Fly
Locations
FloridaCircusDreamland Nightmare IslandWonders of ScienceMedici Brothers' Circus
Objects
The Magic Feather


v - e - d
Disney1990
Walt Disney Animation Studios
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) • Pinocchio (1940) • Fantasia (1940) • Dumbo (1941) • Bambi (1942) • Saludos Amigos (1942) • The Three Caballeros (1944) • Make Mine Music (1946) • Fun and Fancy Free (1947) • Melody Time (1948) • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) • Cinderella (1950) • Alice in Wonderland (1951) • Peter Pan (1953) • Lady and the Tramp (1955) • Sleeping Beauty (1959) • One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) • The Sword in the Stone (1963) • The Jungle Book (1967) • The Aristocats (1970) • Robin Hood (1973) • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977) • The Rescuers (1977) • The Fox and the Hound (1981) • The Black Cauldron (1985) • The Great Mouse Detective (1986) • Oliver & Company (1988) • The Little Mermaid (1989) • The Rescuers Down Under (1990) • Beauty and the Beast (1991) • Aladdin (1992) • The Lion King (1994) • Pocahontas (1995) • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) • Hercules (1997) • Mulan (1998) • Tarzan (1999) • Fantasia 2000 (1999) • Dinosaur (2000) • The Emperor's New Groove (2000) • Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) • Lilo & Stitch (2002) • Treasure Planet (2002) • Brother Bear (2003) • Home on the Range (2004) • Chicken Little (2005) • Meet the Robinsons (2007) • Bolt (2008) • The Princess and the Frog (2009) • Tangled (2010) • Winnie the Pooh (2011) • Wreck-It Ralph (2012) · Frozen (2013) • Big Hero 6 (2014) • Zootopia (2016) • Moana (2016) • Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018) • Frozen II (2019) • Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) • Encanto (2021)Strange World (2022) • Wish (2023)

Upcoming: Moana 2 (2024) • Zootopia 2 (2025) • Frozen III (2026) • Frozen IV (TBA)

Pixar Animation Studios
Toy Story (1995) • A Bug's Life (1998) • Toy Story 2 (1999) · Monsters, Inc. (2001) • Finding Nemo (2003) • The Incredibles (2004) • Cars (2006) • Ratatouille (2007) • WALL-E (2008) • Up (2009) • Toy Story 3 (2010) • Cars 2 (2011) • Brave (2012) • Monsters University (2013) • Inside Out (2015) • The Good Dinosaur (2015) • Finding Dory (2016) • Cars 3 (2017) • Coco (2017) • Incredibles 2 (2018) • Toy Story 4 (2019) • Onward (2020) • Soul (2020) • Luca (2021) • Turning Red (2022) • Lightyear (2022) • Elemental (2023) • Inside Out 2 (2024)

Upcoming: Elio (2025) • Toy Story 5 (2026)

Disneytoon Studios
DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp (1990) • A Goofy Movie (1995) • The Tigger Movie (2000) · Peter Pan: Return to Never Land (2002) • The Jungle Book 2 (2003) • Piglet's Big Movie (2003) • Pooh's Heffalump Movie (2005) • Planes (2013) • Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014)
Disney Television Animation
Doug's 1st Movie (1999) • Recess: School's Out (2001) • Teacher's Pet (2004)
20th Century Animation
Spies in Disguise (2019) • Ron's Gone Wrong (2021) • The Bob's Burgers Movie (2022)
Films with Stop Motion Animation
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) • James and the Giant Peach (1996) • Frankenweenie (2012)
Other Disney units
The Brave Little Toaster (1987) • Valiant (2005) • The Wild (2006) • A Christmas Carol (2009) • Gnomeo & Juliet (2011) • Mars Needs Moms (2011) • Strange Magic (2015) • The Lion King (2019)

Upcoming: Mufasa: The Lion King (2024)

Live-Action Films with Non-CG Animation
The Reluctant Dragon (1941) • Victory Through Air Power (1943) • Song of the South (1946) • So Dear to My Heart (1949) • Mary Poppins (1964) • Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) • Pete's Dragon (1977) • Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) • The Lizzie McGuire Movie (2003) • Enchanted (2007) • Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
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