Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dumbo (1941) **

dumbo

Have you ever watched a film as a child and then later as an adult?  What your childhood memory usually holds for you is not exactly a full representation.  Upon adult reintroduction you notice all sorts of things that just flew right over your kiddie head.  This is what recently happened to me while watching the Walt Disney animated classic, Dumbo (1941).  Who knew a Disney film could have so much debauchery!

dumIf you have a child, know a child, or once were a child yourself, you no doubt have seen Dumbo.  Yet, as I believe it is possible that aliens walk amongst us, let me do a quick synopsis. Dumbo is a baby elephant who has inordinately large ears which make him both clumsy and the object of ridicule.  When his mother is locked up for trying to protect him, Dumbo finds himself shunned by the other elephants. His only friend in the world is a mouse named Timothy who is always trying to find ways to make Dumbo a star. Reduced to the ultimate humiliation of becoming a clown, Dumbo’s redemption is found in the most unlikely place—his ears! At this point, aliens, if you want to know the rest you’ll have to watch the film—world domination will have to wait for 60 minutes.

Now, let’s talk about the wickedness of the movie.  Am I the only one whose mind just jumped into the gutter when Timothy overhears the circus owners discussing how they need a climax for the show and Tim yells, “You’re a climax , Dumbo!”  Here we have a film that begins with storks delivering animal babies and a train that chants “I think I can” when going up hills and steaming through tunnels, and soon thereafter we have characters screaming they need a climax. I read in the credits that Ben Sharpsteen was the director, but by this scene I thought it was a Lubitsch film!

And then there is the uber-famous “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence—when did drunken hallucinations become a common Disney theme?  pink_elephantsFirst, they have the clowns tearing into the hooch (by the way, isn’t this a stereotype?), and then they have Dumbo and Timothy inebriated and seeing dancing pink elephants!  If the film had been made 20 years later I would have sworn there was LSD in that bucket of booze. Psychedelic colors, hallucinogenic images—it was a hippie fest before there were hippies.  Oliver Wallace and Ned Washington even wrote a tripped-out song for the sequence, with lyrics like:

Look out! Look out!
They're walking around the bed
On their head
Clippety cloppety
Arrayed in braid
Pink elephants on parade
What'll I do? What'll I do?
What an unusual view!
I could stand the sight of worms
And look at microscopic germs
But Technicolor pachyderms
Is really much for me

Is this really a positive message to send to children?  Oh, but how many adults really knew (some very personally) what Disney was trying to say: recapture your youth and have a big glass of gin after you put your kid to bed!  Thankfully, I have no children, so I’ve never been asked to explain why Dumbo and Tim were blowing bubbles and seeing creepy pink elephants; yet, I wouldn’t have minded hearing such an explanation being given. 

Another wicked thing about the film, at least I have been told, is the crow scene.  Some say it was racial stereotyping to have black crows singing a song that was reminiscent of a crowsminstrel show. Granted, naming the head crow Jim Crow was not an Einstein moment, but the last time I checked most crows are black. In addition, the crows were played by African American men from the Hall Johnson choir, so I don’t know that this equates to stereotyping. Now, if they had Bing Crosby singing the track in blackface there might be an issue, but I didn’t find anything shocking about black men singing “When I See an Elephant Fly”.  As I stated above, if anyone has a grievance against Disney about stereotyping it’s the clowns! I have it on high authority that not all clowns are drunkards—just the ones my parents would hire for birthday parties were, or so my mother says. 

And, finally, the last wicked thing is that magic feather. dumbo_featherWhy was it black?  Was Disney encouraging children to dabble in the black arts, “Light as a feather, stiff as a board…” Is this how this creepy slumber party “game” got its start? 

Hopefully, after reading this analysis you too will give Dumbo a new viewing. Perhaps you will gain a new appreciation for the wonderful world of Disney, too. 

 

18 comments:

  1. LOL.. I have to add Dumbo to my DVD collection. I forgot what a wonderful movie it was.. Although.. I do kinda remember the pink elephants. :D

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    1. Hopefully you remember the pink elephants from the film!

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  2. Kim, I would bet no one has ever reviewed Dumbo quite like this. I only saw it once, as a kid, and I didn't like it very much. Oddly, the only thing I really remember and did like was the pink elephants!

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    1. Now, Becky, I'm sure there are many creative ways to review Dumbo--you just have to have an open mind and a little bit of creativity. Oh, and don't really care if people are offended you had the audacity to take on a Disney classic.

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    2. Oh, and do you and Dawn have something to tell us about the pink elephants?

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  3. Kim - you are a wicked woman! Now, I have always suspected that clowns dabble in the black arts, but elephants? I am now going to have to watch this again (preferably with a glass of gin). Hilarious post.

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    1. Always watch films with a glass of gin, FlickChick! And, yes, I am a very wicked woman--I've taken on an animated elephant. Who's next...Mr. Rogers? Who knows.

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  4. Who me? Pink elephants? Nahhh! For me, it's usually like The Lost Weekend -- little tiny turkeys or mice and bats....

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    1. Be like the other 70% of drunks, Becky--hallucinate in color!

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  5. I thought this post had disappeared! First saw it at the Cafe (didn't I?) and when I came back to comment, it was gone. So happy to find it again -

    After reading about the debauchery in "Dumbo," I'm beginning to wonder if there was anything lascivious or leftist in "Lady & the Tramp" that I missed...anything sinful or subversive in "Cinderella"? Etc. Is this the beginning of a series on the down & dirty side of Disney?

    Original & entertaining - great work, Kim!

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    1. Oh, Eve, so much backstory concerning the disappearance of this post from the Cafe. Suffice to say, I contribute there no more.

      As for those other Disney films, I will be revisiting Pinocchio, Snow White, Fantasia, and The Jungle Book in the future. I can only hope that they will entertain you and others as much as this treatment of Dumbo did.

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  6. That's funny you should say that about hallucinating in color (which is definitely better). I was just telling my sister the other day that I would like to visit New York, but I think I might be disappointed. I would be expecting it to be in black and white and look just like the 1930's! LOL! My early love of old movies certainly left their mark on me!

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  7. Great post, and you are quite right that these early Disney films often dealt with some very adult themes, sometimes humorously, and sometimes sterotypically. I sometimes wonder whether our modern animated films have lost that, or if we just aren't as surprised by them (or don't notice the stereotypes the same way we might in another 50 years!) Great review!

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    1. They didn't have to be so PC back then.

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  8. Wow, I did not get that side of Dumbo at all. Well, Disney placed a lot of darker elements into his films of the period, but they where mostly scary stuff like child abuse in Pinocchio or the devil in Fantasia. In Dumbo I was mostly struck by the meanness of the fellow elephants. That is something children and adults alike can relate to and get agitated by.
    Luckily my son is not old enough to ask questions about the pink elephants. He just loves them and dance with them.

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    1. LOL! Well, it is my own original take, but there are others like me who see interesting elements in the movie.

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  9. I personally hate this movie mainly because of the racism to both clowns and African Americans (listen to the song lyrics during the circus building scenes) and of those darn Pink Elephants On Parade. What the heck was in that booze that Dumbo drank ?!? That scene scarred me for life, and I always got bad dreams whenever I saw this movie. :(
    Entertaining post, though! :)

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    1. It does have racist elements, that's for certain. Glad you enjoyed the review. From time to time I like to have a little bit of fun with them.

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