Racial Stereotypes can be fun!DUMBO

Directed by Samuel Armstrong, Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts, Ben Sharpsteen
Style: Hand-drawn
Reviewed by JL and JB

     The second of Walt Disney's trilogy of animated masterpieces from the early '40s, following PINOCCHIO (1940) and preceding BAMBI (1942).  Of the three, DUMBO is the simplest in style and approach, which is exactly what the straightforward material demands.  Many Disney animators have tried and failed in the years since to create a scene as deeply moving as the "Baby Mine" lullaby with Dumbo and his mother.  It's unashamedly tear-jerking to be sure, but the emotional weight and credibility of the story renders the moment free of contrivance and mawkish sentiment.  Even if Uncle Walt was often little more than a whip-cracker with veto power, it can still be said that nobody did Disney like Disney himself. - JL

     The simplest of Disney's five initial animated features, and because it is so unpretentious, it just may be the best.  SNOW WHITE was a test to see if American audiences would sit through a full-length cartoon, PINOCCHIO was a test to see if they would do it again.  FANTASIA was a grand experiment in matching animation to well-known music, and BAMBI, which would follow DUMBO, was an experiment in narrative form. DUMBO?  DUMBO just is.  It has no hidden agenda beyond being 64 minutes of pure entertainment.  

     Made quickly and on a small budget after the box-office failure of FANTASIA, DUMBO is almost like an apology from Uncle Walt to the masses: "I'm sorry I got so hi-falutin' there for a while.  Here's a story about a cute little elephant with big ears." Yet DUMBO's bubbly "Fleischer meets Warners" cartooniness belies the fact that there is amazing stuff going on throughout the film.  Sure, we all know the people at Disney had tremendous range, but DUMBO throws the sweet and lovely "Baby Mine" scene, the truly bizarre "Pink Elephants on Parade" number and the swinging "When I See An Elephant Fly" sequence at you all in the space of about fifteen minutes, without once feeling like the artists are showing off.  Even the surrealistic pink elephants segment, which could stand alone as one of the supreme achievements in animation, serves as a story transition between Dumbo getting drunk and Timothy Mouse realizing Dumbo can fly.  Such brilliance used as a way to move Dumbo and Timothy from one part of the plot to another.  What else can you do but cry, sit in awe and then laugh and snap your fingers in swing rhythm? 5 - JB


Although he gets no screen credit (Disney was not in the habit of listing their voice artists), comical tough guy character actor Edward Brophy provided the voice of Timothy J. Mouse.  Brophy had a long and varied career, spanning from the end of the silent era through to the early days of television.  He can be seen in many screen classics as The Cameraman with Buster Keaton, The Champ with Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper, A Slight Case of Murder with Edward G. Robinson and You Can't Cheat An Honest Man with W. C. Fields.

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