Plot summary: With his big ears, Dumbo is the laughing stock of the circus – at least until he realizes that his ears actually make him pretty special.
Review: As a kid, I lost a lot of tears over Disney’s classic tales: Bambi, Pinocchio and, most predominantly, Dumbo, the little elephant with ears big enough to fly. I still remember how I choked up when he was ridiculed and teased. I felt for the little fella who was so cute with his over-sized ears and a heart twice as big. I couldn’t understand why he was an outcast, why he was defined by something he had been born with, a feature that made him unique. As an adult, my heart still breaks at the truth behind Dumbo’s painful tale.
In the beginning, Dumbo is an innocent child, a little elephant whose soul gets scarred by depreciative looks and vicious remarks. The only friend he has is a little mouse called Timothy, an animal most of his fellow elephants are scared out of their wits of. His second ally is his mother, Mrs. Jumbo, who puts the life of her child devotedly above her own. It is that mix of love and pain that rings so true to my heart, a quality many modern tales fail to address in my opinion. Based on a children’s story by writer Helen Aberson and illustrator Harold Pearl, the picture does not romanticize the hard lessons Dumbo has to learn in his young life. It rather stresses the tears and hardship of children who do not seem to fit in with the rest of society, of children who look, act or think out of the box.
Although this may sound like a grim tale, deeply depressing and burdensome, Dumbo is the exact opposite of what we have come to accept as realism in entertainment. Disney’s fourth animated feature is warmhearted, moving and full of spirit. It does not bubble wrap indignity or injustice but still rewards us with a happy ending. The film, like many of its peers, walks the fine line of jolly diversion and food for thought. It is an animated classic most of us got introduced to as children and re-evaluated as adults. For me, it is one of Disney’s most haunting tales, a story I love to loathe because it has broken my heart over and over again.
The film is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Melanie Simone is a writer with a degree in American Studies and English. On Talking Classics, she savors her love for vintage Hollywood.