Dumbo is a 1941 American animated film produced by Walt Disney Productions and released by RKO Radio Pictures. The fourth Disney animated feature film, it is based upon the storyline written by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, and illustrated by Helen Durney for the prototype of a novelty toy ("Roll-a-Book"). The main character is Jumbo Jr., a semi-anthropomorphic elephant who is cruelly nicknamed "Dumbo", as in "dumb". 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.
Dumbo was released on October 23, 1941; made to recoup the financial losses of Fantasia, it was a deliberate pursuit of simplicity and economy for the Disney studio. At 64 minutes, it is one of Disney's shortest animated features. Sound was recorded conventionally using the RCA System. One voice was synthesized using the Sonovox system, but it, too, was recorded using the RCA System.
Upon the passing of winter, in 1941, a flock of storks deliver babies to circus animals within the "Winter Quarters" in Florida. All the mothers receive their parcels before departure except the elephant Mrs. Jumbo. During travel, a lost stork brings her an elephant who, to the other elephants' surprise, is adorned with extraordinarily large ears. He is made an object of ridicule and given the nickname "Dumbo". Mrs. Jumbo attempts to remain dignified and treats her child with all her maternal love, but when a group of rascals takes to mocking Dumbo, Mrs. Jumbo catches one of them with her trunk and spanks him. The circus ringmaster deems Mrs. Jumbo mad and has her locked in a cage. The lone Dumbo is made a pariah amongst the rest of the circus troupe. A small mouse named Timothy consoles Dumbo and vows to make him a star.
After being secretly encouraged by Timothy, the ringmaster makes Dumbo the top of an elephant pyramid stunt. The performance goes awry as Dumbo trips over his ears and misses his target, causing the other elephants to suffer various injuries, and bring down the big top. Dumbo is made into a clown as a result, to the shame of the other elephants, 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 dislikes this job, and is now more miserable than ever. To cheer Dumbo up, Timothy takes him to visit his imprisoned mother. The two are unable to see each other face to face, and can only entwine trunks. On the way back, Dumbo cries and then starts to hiccup, so Timothy takes him for a drink of water from a bucket which, unknown to them, has accidentally had a bottle of champagne spilled into it by the clowns. As a result, Dumbo and Timothy both become drunk and have surreal hallucinations of pink elephants.
The next morning, Dumbo and Timothy are awakened by a group of crows who are surprised to find an elephant sitting on the highest branches of a tree. As the initial astonishment passes, Timothy surmises that Dumbo had managed to achieve flight using his large ears as wings. Timothy persuades Dumbo to use this gift with the support of the crows' leader, who gives Dumbo one of his feathers and convinces him that it carries magic properties that will allow him to fly. Back at the circus, Timothy proposes to Dumbo that he transform his clown act into a flying performance. As Dumbo unfolds his ears during the plummet, he loses the feather and panics. Timothy quickly confesses 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, finally striking back at his tormentors as a stunned audience looks on in amazement. After this performance, Dumbo becomes a media sensation, Timothy becomes his manager and presumably the new owner of the circus, Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo are given a private car on the circus train, and while the sentient train Casey Jr. travels to the next destination, Mrs. Jumbo, Dumbo and the crows greet each other in the distance, with the little elephant's new friends wishing him good luck.
The voice actors are uncredited for their roles in the film.
Dumbo is based upon a children's story written by Helen Aberson-Mayer and Harold Pearl, with illustrations by Helen Durney. The children's book was first brought to the attention of Walt Disney in late 1939 by Disney's head of merchandise licensing Kay Kamen, who showed a prototype of the Roll-A-Book that included Dumbo. Disney immediately grasped its possibilities and heartwarming story and purchased the rights to it.
Originally it was intended to be a short film; however, Disney soon found that the only way to do justice to the book was to make it a feature-length film. At the time, the Disney Studio was in serious financial trouble due to the war in Europe, which caused Pinocchio and Fantasia to fail at the box office, with the result that Dumbo was intended to be a low-budget feature designed to bring revenue to the studio. Story artists Dick Huemer and Joe Grant were assigned to develop the plot into a feature-length film. From January 22 to March 21, 1940, they wrote a 102-page script outline in chapters, much like a book, an unusual way of writing a film script. They conceived the stork-delivery and the pink elephants sequences and had Dumbo's mother renamed from "Mother Ella" to "Mrs. Jumbo". They riffed on elephants' fear of mice by replacing a wise robin named "Red" found in the original story with the wisecracking mouse character, Timothy. They also added a "rusty black crow", which was later expanded into five. Regardless of this, very little was changed from the original draft. In March 1940, a story team headed by Otto Englander translated the outline into story sketches.
None of the voice actors for Dumbo received screen credit, much like in Snow White and Pinocchio. Timothy Mouse was voiced by Edward Brophy, a character actor known for portraying gangsters. He has no other known animation voice credit. The semi-antagonistic circus director was voiced by Herman Bing, a German-American character actor remembered for his wild-eyed facial expressions and thick German accent in several comedy works. The pompous matriarch of the elephants was voiced by Verna Felton, who also voiced the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, Aunt Sarah in Lady and the Tramp, Flora of the Three Good Fairies in Sleeping Beauty, and Winifred the Elephant in The Jungle Book. Other voice actors include the perennial Sterling Holloway in appearing as Mr. Stork, who also voiced Winnie the Pooh, Kaa in The Jungle Book, the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, and Roquefort in The Aristocats. Cliff Edwards, better known as the voice of Jiminy Cricket, as Dandy Crow, the leader of the crows, and John McLeish, best known for narrating the Goofy "How To" cartoons, providing the opening narration.
From Disney's perspective, Dumbo required none of the special effects that had slowed down production and grew the budgets of Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi. 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, the character designs are simpler, background paintings are less detailed, and a number of held cels (or frames) were used in the character animation. Although the film is more "cartoony" than previous Disney films, the animators brought elephants and other animals into the studio to study their movement.
Watercolor paint was used to render the backgrounds. Dumbo is one of the few Disney features to use the technique, which was also used for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and regularly employed for the various Disney cartoon shorts. The other Disney features used oil paint and gouache. 2002's Lilo & Stitch, which drew influences from Dumbo, also made use of watercolor backgrounds.
During a story meeting for Bambi on February 27, 1940, Disney observed that Dumbo was "an obvious straight cartoon" and that the animators that were assigned on Bambi were not appropriate for the look of Dumbo. Animators such as Art Babbitt and Ward Kimball were considered for the film. For that reason, less experienced animators were brought on to animate the characters. Kimball recalled that Disney approached him in a parking lot about Dumbo and summarized the entire story in five minutes. "And listening to him tell that story," Kimball noted, "I could tell that the picture was going to work. Because everything sounded right. It had a great plot." In spite of this, Bill Tytla, who was one of the studio's top animators, animated the title character, but admitted that "[i]t was in the nature of the film to go very fast and get it out in a hurry." To speed up production, Disney used photostats of story sketches instead of full layout artwork for the film, and had experienced animators to supervise the younger, less experienced animators assigned on the film.
Production on the film was interrupted on May 29, 1941 when much of the Disney animation staff went on strike. Kimball chose to not to strike, but his close friend Walt Kelly, who was an assistant animator helping him on the crow sequence, left the studios shortly after for reasons unrelated to the strike.
On Classic Disney: 60 Years of Musical Magic, "Pink Elephants on Parade" is included on the green disc, "Baby Mine" is on the purple disc, and "When I See an Elephant Fly" is on the orange disc. On Disney's Greatest Hits, "Pink Elephants on Parade" is on the red disc.
Dumbo was completed and delivered to Disney's distributor, RKO Radio Pictures, on September 11, 1941. RKO initially balked at the film's 64-minute length and asked Disney to add another ten minutes. Disney refused, "No, that's as far as I can stretch it. You can stretch a thing so far and then it won't hold. The picture is right as it is. And another ten minutes is liable to cost five hundred thousand dollars. I can't afford it."
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Dumbo had its television premiere on September 14, 1955, albeit severely edited, as an installment of the Disneyland television show. The film was shown unaltered on September 17, 1978, as part of a two-night salute to the program's 25th anniversary.
Along with Alice in Wonderland, Dumbo was the first of Disney's canon of animated films to be released on home video. The film was originally released on June 26, 1981 on VHS and Betamax, which was followed with a release on Laserdisc and CED in June 1982. It was again re-released on VHS and Betamax as part of the Walt Disney Classics series on November 6, 1985. The film was re-released on VHS and Laserdisc on July 12, 1991. It was followed by another re-issue on VHS and Laserdisc on October 28, 1994 as a part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection. On October 23, 2001, a 60th Anniversary Edition was released in VHS and DVD formats.
In 2006, a "Big Top Edition" of the film was released on DVD. A 70th Anniversary Edition of the film was released in the United States on September 20, 2011. The 70th Anniversary Edition was produced in two different packages: a 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack and a 1-disc DVD. The film was also released as a movie download. All versions of the 70th Anniversary Edition contain deleted scenes and several bonus features, including "Taking Flight: The Making of Dumbo" and "The Magic of Dumbo: A Ride of Passage," while the 2-disc Blu-ray version additionally includes games, animated shorts, and several exclusive features. The film was re-released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 26, 2016 to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
Despite the advent of World War II, Dumbo was still the most financially successful Disney film of the 1940s. After its October 23 release, Dumbo proved to be a financial miracle compared to other Disney films. The simple film only cost $950,000 (equivalent to $16,180,000 in 2018) to produce, half the cost of Snow White, less than a third of the cost of Pinocchio, and certainly less than the expensive Fantasia. Dumbo eventually grossed roughly more than $1.3 million (equivalent to $27,250,000 in 2018) during its original release. The film returned a profit of $850,000. The film was re-released in theaters in 1949, 1959, 1972, and 1976.
Variety said that Dumbo was "a pleasant little story, plenty of pathos mixed with the large doses of humor, a number of appealing new animal characters, lots of good music, and the usual Disney skillfulness in technique in drawing and use of color." Cecelia Ager, writing in PM, called Dumbo "the nicest, kindest Disney yet. It has the most taste, beauty, compassion, skill, restraint. It marks a return to Disney first principles, the animal kingdom—that happy land where Disney workers turn into artists; where their imagination, playfulness, ingenuity, daring flourish freest; where, in short, they’re home." Bosley Crowther, reviewing for The New York Times, said that the film was "the most genial, the most endearing, the most completely precious cartoon feature film ever to emerge from the magical brushes of Walt Disney's wonder-working artists". Time wrote "Like story and characters, Dumbo's coloring is soft and subdued, free from picture-postcard colors and confusing detail—a significant technical advance. But the charm of Dumbo is that it again brings to life that almost human animal kingdom where Walter Elias Disney is king of them all."
Additionally, Time had originally scheduled to run a story with an appearance cover for "Mammal of the Year" (a play on its annual "Man/Person of the Year" honor) on December 8, 1941. However, the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 of that year had postponed it, and the story was later published on December 29.
Among retrospective reviews, film critic Leonard Maltin described it as "One of Walt Disney's most charming animated films". In 2011, Time named the film one of "The 25 All-TIME Best Animated Films". On the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 98% based on 41 reviews with an average score of 8.38/10. The website's consensus reads "Dumbo packs plenty of story into its brief runtime, along with all the warm animation and wonderful music you'd expect from a Disney classic." Metacritic has assigned a weighted score of 96 out of 100 for Dumbo based on 11 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".
In 1968, writer Richard Schickel, in his book The Disney Version, proposed that the crow characters in the film were African American stereotypes. The leader crow, played by Cliff Edwards, was originally named "Jim Crow" for script purposes, but later the name was changed to "Dandy Crow"in attempt to avoid controversy. Unfortunately, today's people continue to remember the character with his original name, "Jim Crow", thus increasing the controversy (although no name is mentioned in the film). However, all of the other crows were voiced by African-American actors and singers, who were all members of the popular all-black Hall Johnson Choir, including the African-American actors James Baskett and Nick Stewart, and Ward Kimball, animator of the crows, used as live-action references for the animations of the characters the late famous African-American duo of dancers known as The Jackson Brothers.￼ Despite suggestions by writers such as Schickel who have criticized the portrayal as racist, other writers have rejected these claims. Defenders note that the crows form the majority of the characters in the movie who are sympathetic to Dumbo's plight, that they are free spirits who bow to no one, and that they are very intelligent (like the crows in real life), aware of the power of self-confidence and very empathic characters, unlike the Stepin Fetchit stereotype common in the previous decade. Furthermore, the crows' song "When I See An Elephant Fly", which uses intricate wordplay in the lyrics, is oriented more toward mocking Timothy Mouse than Dumbo's large ears. The personalities and mannerisms of the crows—specifically their fast-paced, back and fourth dialogue—were inspired by the backchat found in the band records of African-American Jazz singers, artists and entertainers of the time, such as Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong. The crows were also inspired by African Americans on a deeper level; according to animation historian, John Canemaker, the crows sympathize with Dumbo's plight, as they are also an alienated group, ostracized because of their physical bein. The crows in real life are victims of prejudice and false myths, are amongst the most intelligent and smart animals of the planet, even capable of empathy.
In July 2017, after being inaugurated as a Disney Legend, Whoopi Goldberg expressed the desire for the crow characters to be merchandised by Disney, "because those crows sing the song in Dumbo that everybody remembers."
The animator Floyd Norman (Disney Legend since 2007), the first African-American animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios hired in the 1950s and a close collaborator of Walt during the Silver Age, thinks and says (like Whoopi Goldberg) that the crows of Dumbo deserve much more justice and respect. He wrote an article with the title "Black Crows and Other PC Nonsense" in April 2019 on his blog "Mr.Fun's Journal" that defends the crows, his "Old Maestro" Walt Disney and the other animators, including his friend Ward Kimball, declaring that neither Walt nor the animators were racist and with their art, like others in the past and in recent times, they were ironic about Show-Business, the society and the mentality of the times in which Walt lived. "Walt Disney was an entertainer and his animated motion pictures reflected and emulated the popular show business performers of his days". He also stated that the crows he defined as beautiful and "cool" and "with which generations of people who loved them grew up" neither are "racist" nor have been created with racist intent, then showing a picture depicting two of the characters during the famous dance scene present in the film drawn and signed by Floyd Norman himself. Norman saw the movie many times since its first release when he was a child, being very positively impressed, considering Dumbo a "so damn good movie" and "quintessential Disney", adding that it was Disney at its best, in all its magic and simplicity and says: "The scat song they sing and their dance is pure fun and entertainment and the animation is inspired. It’s the turnaround song for Dumbo and his life will never be the same. If you’ll recall, I did the same thing many years later in another Walt Disney movie called, "The Jungle Book". Much like the black crows singing scat, we had little Mowgli encouraged by another group of cool birds who encouraged him with a song (the vultures). Yet, there was no controversy over these singing birds who just happen to sound like another famous musical group from Liverpool (The Beatles). I’d like to remind you that George Clooney playing a poor Southern white in, “Oh, Brother Where Art Thou,” did the same goofy shuffle and nobody found that offensive. After all, weren’t the “Soggy Bottom Boys” the white equivalent of the black crows?". In his article he speaks also against the too politically correct wave of the recent years, calling it "crazy, senseless and destructive PC nonsense era", and declaring with textual words: "If you find Walt Disney's Dumbo racist, that's just your problem", adding then that the public has become too, overly-sensitive and much poorer in terms of humor, and the crows and the original name "Jim Crow" of the leader were supposed to be just a mock and a sarcastic and ironic criticism towards the Jim Crow laws during those years in the Southern USA, but the public has become incapable to contextualize and to understand irony and sarcasm. "Alas, sarcasm seems wasted on today’s clueless generation". In his article he declares also that he cannot tolerate at all a possible censorship of the crows and other Disney films or any other editing to them, stating that he knew Walt very well and he would have never wanted this and it would be a real insult and outrage to his work , his art and his memory. "It is totally wrong to revise history simply because it makes you uncomfortable. Finally, as I spoke with Ward Kimball, I told him how much I enjoyed the black crows doing that jazzy little shuffle he animated. The black crows perform, “When I See an Elephant Fly,” and I guarantee it’s Disney animation at its finest. Walt Disney’s animated classic is not racist, nor were the people who made the movie. I was privileged to know and work with most of them. The only thing these talented men and women wanted was to bring the very best Disney entertainment to the screen. In this crazy era of PC nonsense, I thought you should know that".
In November 2019, it was reported that an edited version of Dumbo without the crows would be featured on Disney+. This turned out to be false, as the film appeared on Disney+ uncensored, but with a disclaimer in the synopsis warning "it may contain outdated cultural depictions".
Dumbo won the 1941 Academy Award for Best Original Score, awarded to musical directors Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace. Churchill and lyricist Ned Washington were also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Baby Mine" (the song that plays during Dumbo's visit to his mother's cell), but did not win for this category. The film also won Best Animation Design at the 1947 Cannes Film Festival.
|1941||Academy Awards||Best Scoring of a Musical Picture||Won|
|Best Original Song
(For the song "Baby Mine")
|1947||Cannes Film Festival||Best Animation Design||Won|
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
Dumbo's Circus is a live-action/puppet television series for preschool audiences that aired on The Disney Channel in the 1980s. Unlike in the film, Dumbo spoke on the show. Each character would perform a special act, which ranged from dancing and singing to telling knock knock jokes.
The Ringmaster appears as one of four villains in the 1999 PC game Disney's Villains' Revenge. In the game, the Disney Villains alter the happy endings from Jiminy Cricket's book; in particular, the Ringmaster forces Dumbo to endlessly perform humiliating stunts in his circus. In the end, the Ringmaster is defeated when he is knocked unconscious by a well-aimed custard pie.
Dumbo appears in the popular PlayStation 2 game Kingdom Hearts released in 2002 in the form of a summon that the player can call upon in battle for aid. Sora, the protagonist, flies on Dumbo while he splashes enemies with water from his trunk. Dumbo reprises his role as a summon in the follow-up game Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories released in 2004 for the Game Boy Advance.
In 2001, the "60th Anniversary Edition" DVD of Dumbo featured a sneak peek of the proposed sequel Dumbo II, including new character designs and storyboards. Robert C. Ramirez (Joseph: King of Dreams) was to direct the sequel, in which Dumbo and his circus friends navigated a large city after being left behind by their traveling circus. Dumbo II also sought to explain what happened to Dumbo's father, Mr. Jumbo. Dumbo's circus friends included the chaotic twin bears Claude and Lolly, the curious zebra Dot, the older, independent hippo Godfry, and the adventurous ostrich Penny. The animals were metaphors for the different stages of childhood. Dumbo II was supposed to be set on the day immediately following the end of the first Dumbo movie. John Lasseter cancelled Dumbo II, soon after being named Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2006.
On July 8, 2014, Walt Disney Pictures announced that a live-action adaptation of Dumbo was in development. In the same announcement, Ehren Kruger was confirmed as the screenwriter, as well as co-producer with Justin Springer. On March 10, 2015, Tim Burton was announced as the director. On January 11, 2017, it was reported that Will Smith is in talks to star in the remake as the father of some children who befriend Dumbo. That same day, it was revealed that Tom Hanks had reportedly been offered to play the film's villain. The following month, it was announced that Smith would not be starring in the film. Smith had apparently passed on the project due to a disagreement over salary and scheduling as well as to star in Bad Boys for Life, however, went on to play the role of the Genie in the 2019 live-action remake of Aladdin. In March 2017, it was reported that Eva Green was in talks to play a trapeze artist. Following this announcement, Danny DeVito was cast as a ringleader named Medici. Two weeks later, it was reported that Colin Farrell had entered negotiations to play the role of Holt, which was originally offered to Will Smith. On April 4, 2017, Michael Keaton, Burton's former frequent collaborator, entered talks to star as the villain. Keaton confirmed his involvement with the film on June 26, 2017. Filming took place at Cardington Studios in Bedfordshire, England. On July 15, 2017, Disney announced the casting for all of the principal roles and that the film would be released on March 29, 2019. DeObia Oparei, Joseph Gatt and Alan Arkin also play new characters created for the film.
Tim Burton’s Dumbo is also building sets at Cardington, so some of these props and set pieces could be for that film as well. What do you think the structure could be? Hall of Justice? Watchtower? Steppenwolf’s lair? Dumbo’s circus?
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