Play It Again – Dumbo

Play It Again – Dumbo. By Jess Lomas.

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which classic-film connoisseur Jess Lomas revisits a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

Did you ever see an elephant fly? The classic 1941 Disney film Dumbo – directed by Ben Sharpsteen – may be the studio’s shortest feature film, coming in at 64 minutes, but it ranks highest amongst their movies with the most heart.

Jumbo Jr. is nicknamed Dumbo and ridiculed for his enormous ears by the other elephants in the travelling circus. When a group of boys make fun of Dumbo, Mrs Jumbo loses control and is locked up, leaving him alone – except for his only other friend, Timothy Q. Mouse, whose life mission is to make Dumbo happy again. It’s with the help of his friend that Dumbo discovers his true talents and realises that what he thought made him different, his large ears, is actually what makes him special.

Of course, the scene which leads Dumbo to this discovery is one of the more unusual sequences to be found not only in an animated film but any children’s movie. After Timothy makes Dumbo drink water to get rid of his hiccups the pair begins to hallucinate. The water is – obviously – laced with alcohol and this leads to the famous ‘Pink Elephants on Parade’ sequence with pink elephants singing, dancing, and playing trumpets. The duo emerges from their trip atop a tree, and Timothy supposes Dumbo must have flown them up there. He then sets out to help Dumbo gain the confidence to fly again, a skill that will see Dumbo crowned “The Ninth Wonder of the Universe”.

The origin of the picture is fairly cynical: Disney was attempting to recoup losses after the release of Fantasia and to a lesser extent Pinocchio, so Dumbo is a simpler film not only in plot but also in animation compared to its predecessors, with watercolour used on backgrounds and the animals decidedly more “cartoony” than previous films. Still, it’s incredible to think that such a powerful animated protagonist never speaks a word of dialogue. Dumbo remains a family favourite some seventy years later thanks to its charming characters and touching story, proving that even the most unlikely can succeed.

Discuss: Dumbo!

One Response to “Play It Again – Dumbo”

  1. My son (now 24) LOVED Dumbo with a passion – he watched it so many times, even though he was not keen on TV much at all in general. The songs are what make it watchable, over and over.

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