Walt Disney and released on October 23, 1941, by RKO Radio Pictures. he fourth film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, Dumbo is based upon a child's book of the same name by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Pearl. The main character is Jumbo Jr., a semi-anthropomorphic elephant who is cruelly nicknamed Dumbo. He is ridiculed for his big ears, but in fact he is capable of flying by using his ears as wings. Throughout most of the film, his only true friend, aside from his mother, is the mouse, Timothy; a relationship parodying the stereotypical animosity between mice and elephants.
Despite the advent of World War II, Dumbo was still the most financially successful Disney film of the 1940s. This was one of the first of Disney's animated films to be broadcast, albeit severely edited, on television, as part of Disney's anthology series. The film then 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.
Watch Disney's Animated Classic; Dumbo
Dumbo was made to recoup the financial losses of Fantasia. The film has been criticized as being racist (the leader crow in the film is named "Jim Crow"), yet is also considered to be one of Disney's finest films. It was a deliberate pursuit of simplicity and economy for the Disney studio, and is now generally regarded as a classic of animation. At 64 minutes, it is one of Disney's shortest animated features.
Once the circus is set up, Mrs. Jumbo loses her temper at a group of children for making fun of her son, and she is locked up and deemed mad. Dumbo is shunned by the other elephants and with no mother to care for him, he is now alone, except for a self-appointed mentor and protector, Timothy Q. Mouse, who feels sympathy for Dumbo and becomes determined to make him happy again.
The circus director makes Dumbo the top of an elephant pyramid stunt, but Dumbo causes the stunt to go wrong, injuring the other elephants and bringing down the big top. Dumbo is made a clown as a result, and plays the main role in an act that involves him falling into a vat of pie filling. Despite his newfound popularity and fame, Dumbo hates this job and is now more miserable than ever.
To cheer Dumbo up, Timothy takes him to visit his mother. On the way back Dumbo cries and then starts to hiccup so Timothy decides to take him for a drink of water from a bucket which, unknown to him, has accidentally had a bottle of champagne knocked into it. As a result, Dumbo and Timothy both become drunk and see hallucinations of pink elephants.
The next morning, Dumbo and Timothy wake up in a tree. Timothy wonders how they got up in the tree, and concludes that Dumbo flew up there using his large ears as wings. With the help of a group of crows, Timothy is able to get Dumbo to fly again, using a psychological trick of a "magic feather" to boost his confidence.
Back at the circus, Dumbo must perform his stunt of jumping from a high building, this time from a much higher platform. On the way down, Dumbo loses the feather and Timothy tells him that the feather was never magical, and that he is still able to fly. Dumbo is able to pull out of the dive and flies around the circus.
After this performance, Dumbo becomes a media sensation, Timothy becomes his manager, and Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo are given a private car on the circus train.
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 children's book written by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Pearl (the only involvement the authors had with the cartoon industry). Their book was made of only 8 drawings and just a few lines of text. When it was published in 1939, the edition was so small and obscure that nobody knows how Disney got his hands on it. He gave it to his lead animators and told them to see what they could get out of it.
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 number of held cels (or frames) were used in the character animation.
The crow characters in the film are seen as African-American stereotypes. The leader crow was originally named "Jim Crow" for script purposes, and the name stuck. The other crows are all voiced by African-American actors, all members of the Hall Johnson Choir. Despite suggestions of racism by critics such as Richard Schickel, many historians such as Zoe Pritchard reject these claims. For instance, the crows are noted as forming the majority of the characters in the movie who are sympathetic to Dumbo's plight (the others are Timothy Q. Mouse and Mrs. Jumbo), are free spirits who serve nobody, and intelligent characters aware of the power of self-confidence, unlike the Stepin Fetchit stereotype common at that time. Furthermore, their song "When I See An Elephant Fly," which uses intricate wordplay in the lyrics, is more oriented to mocking Timothy Mouse than Dumbo's large ears.
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