Dumbo: Big Top Edition
directed by Ben Sharpsteen
(Walt Disney, 1941; 2006)

Story: Mrs. Jumbo is a circus elephant who wants a baby. As the circus packs up and heads for the next town, a flock of storks arrives to deliver animal babies (see note below), but Mrs. Jumbo gets no bundle of joy. Wait! One stork arrives late, and Mrs. Jumbo gets an adorable baby elephant, who happens to possess truly enormous ears (they are so long that he trips on them sometimes). Mrs. Jumbo loves her baby, but the other elephants are condescending and rejecting of this baby with the strange ears. What to do? Timothy Q. Mouse befriends Jumbo Jr., whom everyone calls Dumbo, and tries to help the little elephant fit in. The first attempt at finding Dumbo a niche in the circus is a disaster, and he is made into a clown, which horrifies the other elephants. Plus, when a boy visiting the circus is mean to Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo defends him, Mrs. Jumbo gets locked away. Timothy and Dumbo eventually discover that Dumbo has a quality that could make him the star attraction. I won't divulge what that quality is, but it is certainly something to crow about.

Technical: The colors are beautiful and lush, although they do not quite match the lush beauty of Bambi. The sound quality is excellent. The animation is remarkable, especially for the circus train, which is just as alive as any of the people or animals. The high level of animation in the train is a Disney feature that is seen in many of their films, and is seen as recently as in their recent Chicken Little. I must add, though, that Disney's animation from 1941, when this film was originally made, seems very two-dimensional as compared with today's computer-generated graphics. It is still beautiful to watch, though. There are also some very nice children's songs in Dumbo as well.

Special features: The special features include two animated shorts. "Elmer Elephant" is about a young elephant who attends the birthday party of his girlfriend, Tillie Tiger, only to be harassed by the other party attendees because of his big nose. Elmer ends up being a hero, though, because of his trunk. In "The Flying Mouse," a young mouse daydreams about flying, saves the life of a beautiful butterfly and is granted a wish by a fairy. He gets wings and can fly, but this does not turn out to be everything he thought it would be. There is also a learning game for young children to learn about animals, and a sing-along section with the songs from the movie.

The Stork Issue: The film starts with storks delivering babies to the animals. If parents have already explained the facts of life to their children, this segment might be confusing to the kids. If parents have not yet had The Talk with their children, the stork thing might have to be explained, and it could open the door for further explanation. By the way, one possible explanation for the stork-baby connection dates back to Europe hundreds of years ago. Storks often roosted and nested on the roofs of people's homes, near the chimney, where it would be warm on cool spring nights. Which homes were most likely to be kept nice and warm? Those with newborn babies. Hence, storks often nested near the chimneys of homes where newborn babies lived.

The Alcohol Issue: There is a sequence in Dumbo where the clowns are celebrating how much Dumbo added to their part of the show, and they are drinking. One bottle of liquor gets spilled into a tub, and Dumbo later drinks from it, not knowing about the liquor, to stop his hiccups. The animators had a field day depicting the results, with psychedelic dancing pink elephants and a montage of fantastic scenes that hippies from the '60s must love. My point is that parents might need to talk about this scene with their children, as it certainly makes intoxication look interesting and fun.

In watching Dumbo, I was struck by how we have changed. The story is basically sweet and naive, and I wonder if today's children will find it attractive. It does not have as much action or suspense as many of today's animated pieces have. What it does have, however, is a lot of heart.

Bottom line: This is a very nice film for little children, but there are a few points that might necessitate a parent-child discussion.

by Chris McCallister
10 June 2006

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