Dumbo (1941)


Rated: G
Length:  64 min.
Age: 4                                     Commonsense Media sez:  6 +

Scary Factor: the sight of the elephants crashing down from their pyramid was more alarming than funny; also Dumbo has to jump from a great height in the clown act and is scared; hallucination scene is just weird enough to freak out some young viewers

Intense scenes: the scene in which Dumbo is separated from his mother is heart-wrenching; the other animals mock Dumbo, and he feels bad, though he does get the last laugh in the end

Also: the general tone of the whole film is rather depressing. Especially scene in which he visits mom in ‘jail’ – very sad! And some parents may not like the boozing and hallucinations so much… (see full review)

Interests: circus, elephants


The stork arrives at the circus with a delivery: a baby elephant with enormous (eNORmous) ears. Though his mother showers him with affection and does her best to protect him, Dumbo suffers much ridicule from the other animals. Unfortunately, when she lashes out at a boy teasing her baby she is locked away as a dangerous ‘rogue elephant’, and Dumbo’s troubles only get worse and worse. Despite the friendship of a smart-alecky little mouse, his ears cause him to trip and ruin the elephant act, causing him to be demoted to a humiliating role in the clown act. Desperately unhappy, he and the mouse accidentally drink some of the clowns’ alcohol. After a bizarre pink elephant hallucination, they wake up the next morning high in a tree. With the help of some crows, Dumbo realizes he can use his big ears to fly. He returns to the circus, becomes the star of the show, and his mother is released.

This early Disney feature may seem like a great ‘starter movie’ for young kids – it’s quite short, and who could resist that cute little elephant? Plus there is a rather nice lesson about differences, and finding the strength in what makes you unique. I was surprised though when I saw it again and found the entire film to have a rather depressing and even cynical tone.

The crows too provide a little controversy. As Commonsense Media puts it:

Parents need to know that while respecting individual differences is a theme of the movie, the crows who sing “When I See an Elephant Fly” would be considered racist by today’s standards. One of them is named “Jim Crow” and they speak with “Amos & Andy”-style accents, but they were not intended to be insulting when the movie was made.

As they say, the crows are not depicted as villains or denigrated, in fact they help Dumbo in the end. Certainly they act no worse than anyone else in the story, but their crazy slang and accents could offend some today.

Also, the clowns are pretty jaded characters, their act is rather disturbing and mean, and they hit the liquor hard after the show. A glimpse of the seedier side of circus life!

Conclusion: The characters and action are very well done; the animation is lovely and the gags well-thought out. It’s just too bad that the overall feeling of the piece is so depressing.

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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