Film #4 in the Disney Animated Marathon!
Screen Story By: Joe Grant & Dick Huemer
Directed By: Ben Sharpsteen
With this entry in the Disney animation marathon I have come across the first film I don’t quite remember. I know I was privy to Dumbo as a child, but going into this viewing I couldn’t recall anything about it. As I watched Dumbo no memories or anecdotal recollections flooded back into me. Maybe I was too young when I first saw Dumbo, or maybe it didn’t make that big of an impact on me. Whatever the reason may be I will be diving fresh into this screening of Dumbo.
Interesting is the first word I would use to describe Dumbo, vague is the second. In both instances it’s hard for me to peg down what I mean, but I’ll give it a go. There isn’t one instance in Dumbo that immediately shrieks out, “INTERESTING”, well there is but we’ll ignore that for the time being. What I’m trying to get at is the feeling Dumbo left me with, one of an interesting time spent. I know that lacks hard description, but when I finished Dumbo I immediately thought it was interesting, no more no less. That segued into vague, because outside of a very clear message on intolerance Dumbo isn’t a straight forward movie in any fashion. It tackles a number of problems, creates scenarios and trudges forward with its story, but it never settles into any definable pattern or story type. We all know how Dumbo will end, so maybe in that regard it is easily definable, but outside of the foregone ending Dumbo is a movie that flirts with any number of avenues and regularly cuts across streets on a whim.
Outside of those abstract concepts Dumbo does take on the very adult theme of racism and intolerance. One could argue that the Crow’s go against this issue, but I’m sorry people, some black people from the South did and still do talk and act like that. Is it racism that all the elephants are shown to be prim and proper upper crust British ladies? It isn’t, because there are are groups of ladies like them, just as there are groups of black people like the Crow’s. Racism rant aside, Dumbo does a nice job of addressing the idea of intolerance and the results that spring up from an unwillingness to accept that which you do not know or understand.
Every person who reviews Dumbo always touches on the psychedelic dream, but I’m not going to. It was a very good sequence, great even, but I didn’t come away from it wanting to write about it in any great detail. The rest of the animation in Dumbo varies from good to mistake laden in some places. I understand the issues with the animators at the time, but I still have to judge Dumbo as a finished product and there are certain scenarios where depth is clearly not rendered well and a lot of detail is missing.
However the one area where the animators did hit a home run was in Dumbo himself. If one takes the time to pay attention to Dumbo I believe the whole story of the film can be gleaned from his facial expressions alone. He is a beautifully drawn animal, full of emotion and depth, all supplied through facial expressions. The scene where Dumbo visits his jailed mother is a great example of the depth of emotions that play across his face.
Dumbo moves at a fast agreeable pace, but this does result in some problems. The fast pace means that outside of Dumbo and maybe Timothy Q. Mouse we never get any characterization going and their is never an actual plot to the film. Yes, Dumbo wants to free his mother and he is dealing with intolerance, but neither function as plot but rather ingredients in the mix of some story that never really materializes. This fast pace also ensures that an abrupt ending can’t be avoided. When Dumbo finished up I couldn’t help but feel empty, as if there should be more but for one reason or another there wasn’t.
There are other small problems in Dumbo, but there are also small moments of triumph. Dumbo isn’t a great film, but it is a fun and sweet film that is a tad bit perplexing at times. It’s hard to look at Dumbo in the same category as its Disney brethren because it is a very different animal, but in the end it remains a stalwart entry into the Disney annals. Who doesn’t love a flying elephant with giant ears, I know I’m not that curmudgeonly, I think.