Really pleased with Ben’s opinion of The Reluctant Dragon. When we were watching it, I thought it would be his sort of thing. The humour is a little bit more grown-up than some of the other early Disney films.
So, on to Dumbo. Coming out of the WDAS in 1941, many parts of the composition of Dumbo had been featured in The Reluctant Dragon, giving avid fans a sneak-peak of what to expect. It follows the story of a baby elephant born with abnormally large ears, highlighting the unconditional love and protection mothers have for their young and how greatness can spring unexpectedly from diversity, when it turns out that his large ears enable him to fly (wait, what!?). It can make the audience laugh (particularly when Dumbo and Timothy Mouse accidently get drunk), cry (‘Baby Mine’ *sob*) and wonder if they’ve smoked something dodgy (Pink Elephants on Parade, anyone?) resulting in an overall movie experience that stands the test of time.
Dumbo is one of my absolute favourite Disney films and I will enjoy it every time I watch it, without a doubt. However, I have my suspicions that Ben may not find it quite as endearing as I do. Dumbo is treated badly by many of the characters through no fault of his own and much like ‘creepy bad dude’ in Pinocchio, no one really gets their comeuppance, leaving a lack of closure following the films ending. However, I think that there will be characters that he will admire. He won’t hate it. Although, I could be wrong on all of these counts.
As I said, I love it.
It’s 10.30 in the morning and we are about to watch Dumbo. So no beer to help me here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m damn tempted but I will resist the best I can. This is another Disney film from 1941 so obviously the creative juices were flowing at Chez Disney in this period. Actually if the plot of ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ was anything to go by then ‘Dumbo’ was probably actually the artistic inspiration of another poor bastard like Robert Benchley who is treated like royalty by the staff at Disney Studios while they steal and recreate his brainchild from right under his nose.
The atypical Disney intro starts us off then, but with a distinctly “Circus-y” feel. I reckon a Circus will appear in the film. The film starts with a load of wind and rain. And big birds that I am informed are called storks, carrying bags in their mouths. They are flying over Florida. I know it is Florida as they are actually flying over a giant map of Florida. It’s like the animators looked at a Collins map of the world and went “So that’s what the earth looks like from space, well I never…”.
So the bags that the storks are bringing contain baby animals. Baby animals that are being brought for some Mummy animals. Now apparently there is an old-wives tale or a myth that “Storks bring the babies”, presumably to explain where babies come from to children who are not yet ready for the um… “details”. As someone who has never heard of this expression, this whole scene is somewhat confusing to say the least… also if storks bring the babies, how do you explain to kids the bloody great bump on Mummy’s tummy? To be honest, in today’s Jeremy Kyle environment (or American equivalent, Jerry Springer perhaps?) the only question children have about where babies come from is if the father is Steve or Dave?
All the mummy animals are now with their mail-order babies, except one. Mummy elephant’s baby didn’t arrive. But that’s what happens when you order your baby elephant online at the end of the day, and good luck trying to resolve the issue. Those Next-Day Delivery storks have always got some excuse… Also, as I sit here realizing that I’m attempting not to well-up over the unhappiness of a cartoon elephant, I remember how much I HATE the emotional manipulation that Disney thrives on and just how much I want to put these emotions back in the box at the back of my head where they belong. You see, if I have a choice, I would want to see mummy elephants happy with their baby elephants, NOT mummy elephants deprived of their baby elephants! And I don’t need to see the disequilibrium of Mummy Elephant being without Baby Elephant to fully appreciate when Mummy Elephant ends up reunited with Baby Elephant later on in the film either. I can appreciate Mummy Elephant being with Baby Elephant regardless of previous trials and tribulations so just give me mummy elephants with their baby elephants and then I won’t be craving a Southern Comfort at 10.40 in the fucking morning!!!
The next day the same animals are being loaded onto a train. Oh yeah, and by the way, the train talks. Based on my experience with Disney thus far, I can only assume they’re being trafficked. At this point we have a fusion of narration and music, i.e. a singing narrator. It’s hideous. Although I love the idea of some dude singing about what’s going on for the entire film. Ah here’s the stork with the elephant, better late than never. He has been struggling to find Mummy Elephant but now he’s catching up with the train. A group of prostitute elephants wave at the stork and say “cooey!” from their wagon. Business must be bad if they’re trying to offer a stork a good time.
The stork enters the wagon and gives “Jumbo Junior” to his Mum. Apparently, he was brought to her from heaven and it’s his birthday. What, was he reincarnated? Was he actually born today?! All too confusing.
Jumbo is very cute. His, now very happy, mum (see, was that so fucking difficult?) and the prostitute elephants certainly agree. Then Jumbo Jr. sneezes and big ears pop out. Apparently, African elephants develop bigger ears by being very sneezy as infants then. #Disneyscience. The hooker elephants take the piss out of him because of it. He’s just a baby! What complete bitches. I know Walt likes to kill a cartoon animal every now and then, and I hope these whores are next.
So it turns out the train is transporting circus animals to the next town. We see the tent being erected in a storm by a load of faceless black men. In 1941 it evidently wasn’t deemed important enough to give black men faces…
The next day the animals get paraded through the town. I really, really hate circuses anyway and this shit doesn’t help me warm to them. All the people are laughing at Jumbo’s (or Dumbo’s as he’s now being called) ears. This sort of shit doesn’t make me warm to people much either, even if it is a cartoon. It’s a cute elephant and everyone’s being a total arsehole to him.
Later Dumbo gets washed and plays with Mummy, even though his big ears keep getting in the way. Some of the bastard children who were taking the piss out of Dumbo earlier return for another round of abuse. I feel that if they have nothing to better to do than track down an elephant with big ears so they can laugh at it again, they must have very boring lives. Is this what it was like before Playstations? The main kid dishing out the abuse looks remarkably like one of boys that was turned into a ‘Donkey slave’ in Pinocchio. Now if you happened to have read my previous reviews, you may have possibly noticed that I didn’t exactly warm to the donkey trafficking, as it seemed a horrifically over-the-top punishment just for being a naughty boy. However, if it turns out the crime was verbally abusing a cute baby elephant just because it has big ears, I will be forced to admit I was too hasty to judge, and those little shits deserve everything they get. I would also then happily add a point onto my score for Pinocchio as a reward, as it would have finally given me the closure I need. I’m deducting a point from this film however, as there’s too many bastards in it.
Fortunately, Mummy Elephant is on it and gives the kids what’s coming to them. Or at least tries to, as the circus folk intervene and take Mummy away, chain her up in a travelling cage and put a sign saying “Mad Elephant” on the front of it. This prompts Kerry to start crying. I hate Disney. Another point deducted.
The Prostitute Elephants all have a gossip and blame Dumbo for his Mother’s incarceration. Bitches. They all decide to ignore him. A random mouse then appears and scares the crap out of the elephants before enticing Dumbo out and befriending him. The mouse has an idea. He reckons if he can make Dumbo a star, he will no longer be a joke. The mouse then goes outside and hears two of the carnies talking about how they need a new “big climax” to the show. Well now isn’t that just convenient.
When the head carnie dude goes to sleep, the mouse tries a spot of sleep hypnosis in his ear. He tells the snoring man that he needs a climax and the perfect climax is “the little elephant with the big ears”. I question whether its wise to tell a sleeping man that he needs an elephant to climax. If it’s true that it’s easy for the brain to misinterpret subliminal messages, then there is a rather unpleasant rabbit-hole that can be fallen down here with this plan. Or elephant-hole. I really should move on…
We then skip to the following night’s show and the elephants are headlining proceedings and aren’t in therapy, so I guess the plan worked as intended. Actually, having started to watch their act I’m not so sure…
I mean it’s definitely a bit kinky.
Definitely a bit angry.
Definitely a bit… ok seriously, what the fuck is going on here?
Eventually they pile up onto what I can only assume is the world’s first elephant-sex-wall, and the climax will be Dumbo flipping onto the top of it. The whole thing is eeever so slightly unrealistic but ok, the magic of cartoon and all that, I’ll let it go. Dumbo however, for some strange reason, is somewhat nervous about being flipped onto the top of a giant elephant-wall in front of a room full of people without any practice. As a result, he fucks the whole thing up a proper treat. It’s hardly his fault but I get the feeling he will be blamed anyway as it seems everyone else in this film apart from the mouse and his mum are total dickheads.
The next day, following this whimper of “a climax”, the elephants are doing their usual gossiping thing whilst covered in bandages. God, I hate them. They’re discussing how Dumbo is now going to be a clown in the show as punishment for ruining “the climax”. He got no training!!! Sick of this film. Apparently, him being a clown is a source of great shame and as far as they’re concerned, “he is no longer an elephant”.
The next night Dumbo is a weird-clown-elephant-baby in the performance, that is stuck on the top of a building while other clowns get up to all sorts of hijinks while trying to rescue him and put out the fire. The circus owners love it. I don’t. In a celebratory mood the owners all get drunk.
Dumbo is sad so the mouse takes him to see his mother. She hugs him with her trunk. I’m an adult male who is spending a morning getting emotional at the enforced separation of a mummy and baby elephant. I am not happy about this. Another point deducted. After the sad (of course it’s fucking sad, it’s fucking Disney) farewell, we re-join the clowns planning a new finale that is dangerous and reckless, but okay because “elephants don’t have feelings”. I expect them all to die (the clowns) or suffer horrific pain as recompense for this, for me to be satisfied with the film’s conclusion. Make the hooker-elephants suffer intensely as well. And the mean kids. Make them all pay! I want justice! But just like Pinocchio, I bet we won’t.
What we do get however, is a very, very drunk baby elephant and mouse. It comes about after one of the clown’s bottles of alcohol ends up being tipped into a water bucket. A thirsty Dumbo then goes and drinks from it. Really, the problem here is allowing animals to freely wander about, thus making such health and safety problems inevitable. The mouse then falls in the “water” and ends up equally battered. I don’t know the scientific implications of elephants and mice drinking alcohol, but the Disney writers have decided it leads to crazy-ass hallucinations. This hallucination scene is beyond words. I cannot do it justice with words either. It is…. fucked up. Really fucked up. Without giving too many spoilers it contains many things like contorting pink elephant bubbles dancing around while a song called “Pink Elephants on Parade” is sung. I urge everyone to go and watch this segment now…
The next morning Dumbo and his mouse buddy are asleep in a tree. Good effort on their part. That’s how you know you’ve had a good night. Some crows are above them in a tree acting very, very stereotypically black. At least they’ve been given faces I suppose. They decide to wake Dumbo and the mouse up by blowing cigar smoke in their face. Remember that one kids. If you’re at a sleepover and your mate won’t wake up in the morning, then you know what to do. And it must be okay to do so because it’s happened in a kid’s film.
Dumbo and the mouse fall out of the tree. I wish they had given this mouse dude a name as he’s a fairly prominent character, and I’m fed up of just calling him ‘the mouse’… I’ve just checked his name on Wikipedia, and it’s Timothy Q. Mouse. He has a full name including middle initial and they couldn’t be fucked to tell us what is was? Another point deducted.
Dumbo & TQM wonder how they got in a tree. With the help of the racially generic crows, they establish they must have flown with the help of Dumbo’s big ears. The crows then sing a song about how “they’ve never seen an elephant fly”. Ugh.
TMQ realises that he can make Dumbo’s career… take off (that was my joke, see, I could write crap puns for kid’s films…), by presenting everyone with the world’s only flying elephant. Okay hang on here, so this is how we’re going to get to Dumbo becoming a star and a fairy-tale ending, I get that, but I’m curious about the writer’s discussion that led us to this point…
“Right guys, now how do we end this film?”
“Ok ummmmm… How about Dumbo gets turned into a donkey and sold into slavery?”
“George, George, George, listen, I love your enthusiasm, I do. But we already did your Donkey-Trafficking thingy in Pinocchio. We can’t do it again.”
“Ummmmm… How about… ummmmm… I don’t know, Dumbo starts flying and becomes a star?”
“That’s… actually really good George, well done!”
“And he discovers he can fly after getting pissed up with the mouse to the point where he hallucinates pink, elephant-shaped bubbles before waking up in a tree!”
“Okay George, stop. You always take it a bit too far don’t you? Look, we can write a good way to get from A to B here, so let’s put our thinking caps on.”
(After four silent hours)
“Fuck it. Drunk baby elephant and mouse it is. Speaking of drunk, it happy-hour so let’s call it a day.”
After TMQ gives the crows a sob story about poor Dumbo, the crows agree to help Dumbo to fly again. As Dumbo is dubious, they use some cunning psychology, and give him “a magic feather” that will give him “the power” to fly. There’s about three minutes of the film remaining at this point, I get a very strong suspicion that they will be successful as there isn’t enough time for a plan B, unless the ending they’re going for is Dumbo falling to his death. Again, this is Disney, so I cannot completely rule out such misery. With three minutes remaining it also means there probably isn’t enough time to kill enough of the films many arseholes. So once again, too many people and prostitute-elephants are going to get away with shit that they shouldn’t.
Obviously The “magic feather” works, and Dumbo starts flying. Whilst airborne, he knocks over some telegraph poles.
“Hi, phone company? Could you please tell me why we didn’t have a working phone line for the previous two weeks please?”
“I’m sorry ma’am, but our lines were brought down by a flying baby elephant……. You don’t believe me, do you?”
That night at the circus, “the biggest climax of all time” or whatever the hell it’s called, seems to involve throwing a baby elephant off something ridiculously high. After some moderate suspense involving the dropping of the “magic feather” whilst falling, Dumbo flies and becomes a mega-star. He gets insured for $1,000,000, reunited with his mum and TQM becomes his manager.
This is all very nice and a happy ending, don’t get me wrong. But it all happens in the last minute of the film, the hooker-elephants’ only punishment for their bitchiness is to have peanuts shot at them as Dumbo flies around. The circus owners’ punishment for their obvious cruelty and lack of empathy towards animals is to OWN A HUGELY SUCCESSFUL ATTRACTION AND GET RICH. Complete bullshit. Again, the problem with this film, just like Snow White, just like The Reluctant Dragon, is that the ending is rushed and unsatisfying in my opinion.
Most people regard this film as exceptional. It has a 97% average rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So, I’m wondering why I just didn’t enjoy it?! Am I the only person? If anyone else feels the same way, then please let me know! At the end of the day, I know I will struggle to enjoy any film with meanness to animals or mummy/son trauma, so I hope this won’t be a regular occurrence. Fingers crossed the next film will lighten the emotional load a bit. It’s Bambi next?