Making the Grades
In the early 1940s, while Walt Disney's animation studio was busy with a number of projects including the ambitious Fantasia, a group of artist were also working on a short tale about an elephant with exceptionally large ears. Simple in story and design, the low budget production became the little-movie-that-could after it captured the hearts of viewers as well as an Academy Awards' nomination (for Best Original Song) and an Oscar win (for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture).
So what is Dumbo's charm? Most fans agree it has something to do with the plight of the title character.
Arriving long after the storks had dropped off their bundles of joy to the rest of the wintering circus animals, the late delivery is received with delight by Mrs. Jumbo. Although she takes no notice of her son's obvious abnormality, their fellow elephants do not offer the same accepting reception. Instead they pronounce the newborn as something "only a mother could love." When their critical attitude and name-calling spreads to the rest of the troupe and even the patrons of the Big Top, the indignant mom steps in to defend her child. However, her angry rampage only results in her being shackled and placed in isolation, while her lonely offspring is relegated to the role of a clown.
Then Timothy Mouse (voiced by Edward Brophy) befriends the dejected Dumbo. Always the optimist, the rambunctious rodent rallies the young elephant's spirits by encouraging him to turn his biggest defect into his best feature. But it may take a bit of magic and a whole lot of faith for the picked-on pachyderm to believe he can use his enormous appendages as wings.
Featuring a commendable moral of soaring above all obstacles, this Disney Classic should be a real crowd pleaser. The only problem is the emotions conveyed might just be too convincing, especially for young audiences. (Although I know very few adults either who can make it dry-eyed through the song Baby Mine, which is the backdrop for the scene where the tiny tike visits his imprisoned mother and the pair are only able to make physical contact by sneaking their trunks through the cage bars.)
Another moment of concern occurs after Dumbo and Timothy Mouse accidentally ingest some alcohol. Depicting their drunken hallucination in psychedelic animation, the pink elephant sequence may prove both frightening and confusing to little ones.
Yet what can't be debated is the power of the visual elements of this movie. Featuring minimal dialogue and with the main character never uttering a word, the depth of feelings are still clearly communicated. Speaking to the part in each one of us that feels inadequate, Dumbo's triumph over his handicap makes us feel like we, too, can fly.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Dumbo.
Timothy Mouse tells Dumbo, “The very thing that held you down is what is going to carry you up.” Do you believe faults or failings can be transformed into strengths? How can you turn these things around in your life?