Dumbo, a circus elephant born with freakishly large ears, rises from miserable ugly ducklinghood to superstardom when it is discovered that he can fly. For a while, he believes his abilities come from a magic feather but eventually he learns that its do
Initially rushed through production to compensate for the box-office failure of Fantasia, Dumbo is the most underrated of Walt Disney's cartoon features. Just over an hour long and refreshingly free of artistic pretension, it is (along with Pinocchio) the most timelessly perfect cartoon in the Disney backlist, embodying the typical fable of an orphan outsider (whose mother is humiliatingly penned in a madhouse for trying to protect him) who finds out that secretly special and is rewarded with a happier family life.
With a genuinely cute animal hero (compare the phoney cute of An American Tail or The Land Before Time) and an appealing storyline, the film is exactly right for younger children,with its humour and charm and reassuring finish, but it's not too milk‑soppy for anyone over eight, and has always played as well to parents as kids.
Given that it’s a ‘talking animal’ film, it’s daring to have the title character be mute – most of the talking is handled by Dumbo’s manager-sidekick Timothy Q. Mouse (familiar gangland actor Ed Brophy) but Dumbo himself is an amazingly expressive character (it’s as much in the eyes as the ears). Song highlights: the 'Pink Elephants on Parade' psychedelic hallucination sequence, which is years before its time; ‘Baby Mine’, one of the sweetest songs ever recorded; and 'When I See an Elephant Fly?', a witty batter number (‘I’ve seen a needle that winked its eye’) performed by four crows who are the sharpest, most fondly created black characters in any 1941 movie.
With its genuinely cute hero and appealing storyline, Dumbo's exactly right for younger children but not too milk-soppy for anyone over eight. Indispensible.