Dumbo is a 1941 American animated film produced by Walt Disney Productions and released by RKO Radio Pictures. The fourth Disney animated feature film, it is based upon the storyline written by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, and illustrated by Helen Durney for the prototype of a novelty toy ("Roll-a-Book"). The main character is Jumbo Jr., a semi-anthropomorphic elephant who is cruelly nicknamed "Dumbo", as in "dumb". He is ridiculed for his big ears, but in fact he is capable of flying by using his ears as wings. Throughout most of the film, his only true friend, aside from his mother, is the mouse, Timothy – a relationship parodying the stereotypical animosity between mice and elephants.
Original theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Supervising director:|
|Produced by||Walt Disney|
|Story by||Otto Englander|
|Based on||Dumbo, the Flying Elephant|
by Helen Aberson
|Narrated by||John McLeish|
|Music by||Frank Churchill|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
|Box office||$1.6 million|
Dumbo was released on October 23, 1941; made to recoup the financial losses of Fantasia, it was a deliberate pursuit of simplicity and economy for the Disney studio. At 64 minutes, it is one of Disney's shortest animated features. Sound was recorded conventionally using the RCA System. One voice was synthesized using the Sonovox system, but it, too, was recorded using the RCA System.
Upon the passing of winter, a flock of storks deliver babies to circus animals within the "Winter Quarters" in Florida. All the mothers receive their parcels before departure except the elephant Mrs. Jumbo. During travel, a lost stork brings her an elephant who, to the other elephants' surprise, is adorned with extraordinarily large ears. He is made an object of ridicule and given the nickname "Dumbo". Mrs. Jumbo attempts to remain dignified and treats her child with all her maternal love, but when a group of rascals takes to mocking Dumbo, Mrs. Jumbo catches one of them with her trunk and spanks him. The circus ringmaster deems Mrs. Jumbo mad and has her locked in a cage. The lone Dumbo is made a pariah amongst the rest of the circus troupe. A small mouse named Timothy consoles Dumbo and vows to make him a star.
After being secretly encouraged by Timothy, the ringmaster makes Dumbo the top of an elephant pyramid stunt. The performance goes awry as Dumbo trips over his ears and misses his target, causing the other elephants to suffer various injuries, and bring down the big top. Dumbo is made into a clown as a result, to the shame of the other elephants, and plays the main role in an act that involves him falling into a vat of pie filling. Despite his newfound popularity and fame, Dumbo dislikes this job, and is now more miserable than ever. To cheer Dumbo up, Timothy takes him to visit his imprisoned mother. The two are unable to see each other face to face, and can only entwine trunks. On the way back, Dumbo cries and then starts to hiccup, so Timothy takes him for a drink of water from a bucket which, unknown to them, has accidentally had a bottle of champagne spilled into it by the clowns. As a result, Dumbo and Timothy both become drunk and have surreal hallucinations of pink elephants.
The next morning, Dumbo and Timothy are awakened by a group of crows who are surprised to find an elephant sitting on the highest branches of a tree. As the initial astonishment passes, Timothy surmises that Dumbo had managed to achieve flight using his large ears as wings. Timothy persuades Dumbo to use this gift with the support of the crows' leader, who gives Dumbo one of his feathers and convinces him that it carries magic properties that will allow him to fly. Back at the circus, Timothy proposes to Dumbo that he transform his clown act into a flying performance. As Dumbo unfolds his ears during the plummet, he loses the feather and panics. Timothy quickly confesses that the feather was never magical, and that he is still able to fly. Dumbo is able to pull out of the dive and flies around the circus, finally striking back at his tormentors as a stunned audience looks on in amazement. After this performance, Dumbo becomes a media sensation, Timothy becomes his manager, and Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo are given a private car on the circus train.
The voice actors are uncredited for their roles in the film.
- The title character is Dumbo, the nickname given to Jumbo Jr. He is an elephant who has huge ears and is able to use them to fly, carrying what he thinks of as a magic feather. Like Dopey in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Gideon in Pinocchio, and Tootles in Peter Pan, Dumbo does not have a word of spoken dialogue.
- Edward Brophy as Timothy Q. Mouse, an anthropomorphic mouse who becomes the only friend of Dumbo after his mother is locked up and does his best to make Dumbo happy again. He teaches Dumbo how to become the "ninth wonder of the universe", and the only flying elephant in the world. He is never mentioned by name in the film, but his signature can be read on the contract in a newspaper photograph at the finale.
- Verna Felton as Elephant Matriarch, the well-meaning but pompous leader of the elephants who is initially cold toward Dumbo. Felton also voices Mrs. Jumbo, Dumbo's mother, who speaks only once in the film to give Dumbo's name.
- Cliff Edwards as Jim Crow, the leader of a group of crows. Though he initially teases Dumbo about his big ears and ridicules Timothy's idea that Dumbo can fly, he hears Dumbo's tragic history and becomes determined to help Dumbo fly for real.
- Herman Bing as The Ringmaster, who though not truly evil, is a strict and occasionally arrogant man. The Ringmaster later appears as a villain in the video game Disney's Villains' Revenge.
- Margaret Wright as Casey Junior, the sentient 2-4-0 tender locomotive hauling the circus train.
- Sterling Holloway as Mr. Stork
- The Hall Johnson Choir as Crow Chorus
- The King's Men as Roustabout Chorus
- Noreen Gammill as Elephant Catty
- Dorothy Scott as Elephant Giddy
- Sarah Selby as Elephant Prissy
- Malcolm Hutton as Skinny
- Billy Bletcher as Clown
- John McLeish as the narrator
Dumbo is based upon a children's story written by Helen Aberson-Mayer and Harold Pearl, with illustrations by Helen Durney, that was prepared to demonstrate the prototype of a toy storytelling display device called Roll-A-Book, which was similar in principle to a panorama. It involved only eight drawings and just a few lines of text, and had Red Robin[who?] as Dumbo's ally instead of Timothy Mouse.
Dumbo was first brought to the attention of Walt Disney in late 1939 by Disney's head of merchandise licensing Kay Kamen, who showed a prototype of the Roll-A-Book that included Dumbo. Disney immediately grasped its possibilities and heartwarming story and purchased the rights to it.
Originally it was intended to be a short film; however, Disney soon found that the only way to do justice to the book was to make it feature-length. At the time, the Disney Studio was in serious financial trouble due to the war in Europe, which caused Pinocchio and Fantasia to fail at the box office, with the result that Dumbo was intended to be a low-budget feature designed to bring revenue to the studio. Storymen Dick Huemer and Joe Grant were the primary figures in developing the plot. They wrote the script in chapters, much like a book, an unusual way of writing a film script. Regardless of this, very little was changed from the original draft.
None of the voice actors for Dumbo received screen credit, much like in Snow White and Pinocchio. Timothy Mouse was voiced by Edward Brophy, a character actor known for portraying gangsters. He has no other known animation voice credit. The semi-antagonistic circus director was voiced by Herman Bing, a German-American character actor remembered for his wild-eyed facial expressions and thick German accent in several comedy works. The pompous matriarch of the elephants was voiced by Verna Felton, who also voiced the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, Aunt Sarah in Lady and the Tramp, Flora of the Three Good Fairies in Sleeping Beauty, and Winifred the Elephant in The Jungle Book. Other voice actors include the perennial Sterling Holloway in appearing as Mr. Stork, who also voiced Winnie the Pooh, Kaa in The Jungle Book, the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, and Roquefort in The Aristocats. Cliff Edwards, better known as the voice of Jiminy Cricket, as Jim Crow, the leader of the crows, and John McLeish, best known for narrating the Goofy "How To" cartoons, providing the opening narration.
When the film went into production in early 1941, supervising director Ben Sharpsteen was given orders to keep the film simple and inexpensive. As a result, Dumbo lacks the lavish detail of the previous three Disney animated features (Fantasia, Pinocchio, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs): character designs are simpler, background paintings are less detailed, and a number of held cels (or frames) were used in the character animation. Although the film is more "cartoony" than previous Disney films the animators brought elephants and other animals into the studio to study their movement.
Watercolor paint was used to render the backgrounds. Dumbo is one of the few Disney features to use the technique, which was also used for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and regularly employed for the various Disney cartoon shorts. The other Disney features used oil paint and gouache. 2002's Lilo & Stitch, which drew influences from Dumbo, also made use of watercolor backgrounds.
During the production of Dumbo, Herbert Sorrell, leader of the Screen Cartoonist's Guild, wanted Disney to sign with his union, rather than the IATSE, with which Disney had already signed. Disney declined, twice, saying he would put it to a vote. On May 29, 1941, shortly after rough animation on Dumbo was complete, much of the Disney studio staff went on strike. The strike lasted five weeks, and ended the "family" atmosphere and camaraderie at the studio.
Dumbo was completed and delivered to Disney's distributor, RKO Radio Pictures, on September 11, 1941. RKO initially balked at the film's 64-minute length and wanted Disney to either make it longer, edit it down to a short subject length, or allow them to release it as a B-movie. Disney refused all three options, and RKO issued Dumbo, unaltered, as an A-film.
Songs and performers
- "Look Out for Mr. Stork" (The Sportsmen)
- "Casey Junior" (The Sportsmen)
- "Song of the Roustabouts" (The King's Men)
- "Baby Mine" (Betty Noyes)
- "The Clown Song" (A.K.A."We're gonna hit the big boss for a raise") (Billy Bletcher, Eddie Holden and Billy Sheets)
- "Pink Elephants on Parade" (The Sportsmen) (preceded by two minutes of music on soundtrack version)
- "When I See an Elephant Fly" (Cliff Edwards and the Hall Johnson Choir)
- "When I See an Elephant Fly" (Reprise)
On Classic Disney: 60 Years of Musical Magic, "Pink Elephants on Parade" is included on the green disc, "Baby Mine" is on the purple disc, and "When I See an Elephant Fly" is on the orange disc. On Disney's Greatest Hits, "Pink Elephants on Parade" is on the red disc.
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Dumbo had its television premiere on September 14, 1955, albeit severely edited, as an installment of the Disneyland television show. The film was shown unaltered on September 17, 1978, as part of a two-night salute to the program's 25th anniversary.
Along with Alice in Wonderland, Dumbo was the first of Disney's canon of animated films to be released on home video. The film was originally released on June 26, 1981 on VHS and Betamax, followed by a Laserdisc release in June 1982 and then once again on VHS and Betamax as part of Walt Disney Classics Video Collection release on December 3, 1985.
The film was then remastered in 1986 and 1989 and released on VHS and Laserdisc as a 50th Anniversary Edition of Dumbo on July 12, 1991, followed by an October 28, 1994 VHS and Laserdisc release as a part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection. On October 23, 2001, a 60th Anniversary Edition was released in VHS and DVD formats. In 2006, a "Big Top Edition" of the film was released on DVD, followed by a UK Special Edition release in May 2007.
A 70th Anniversary Edition of the film was released in the United States on September 20, 2011. The 70th Anniversary Edition was produced in two different packages: a 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack and a 1-disc DVD. The film was also released as a movie download. All versions of the 70th Anniversary Edition contain deleted scenes and several bonus features, including "Taking Flight: The Making of Dumbo" and "The Magic of Dumbo: A Ride of Passage," while the 2-disc Blu-ray version additionally includes games, animated shorts, and several exclusive features.
The film was re-released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 26, 2016 to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
Despite the advent of World War II, Dumbo was still the most financially successful Disney film of the 1940s. After its October 23 release, Dumbo proved to be a financial miracle compared to other Disney films. The simple film only cost $950,000 (equivalent to $16,180,000 in 2018) to produce, half the cost of Snow White, less than a third of the cost of Pinocchio, and certainly less than the expensive Fantasia. Dumbo eventually grossed $1.6 million (equivalent to $27,250,000 in 2018) during its original release; it and Snow White were the only two pre-1943 Disney features to turn a profit. The film was re-released in theaters in 1949, 1959, 1972, and 1976.
Reviews for the film at its initial release were largely positive. Variety said that Dumbo was "a pleasant little story, plenty of pathos mixed with the large doses of humor, a number of appealing new animal characters, lots of good music, and the usual Disney skillfulness in technique". Cecilia Ager, writing in PM, called Dumbo "the nicest, kindest Disney yet", and Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, said that the film was "the most genial, the most endearing, the most completely precious cartoon feature film ever to emerge from the magical brushes of Walt Disney's wonder-working artists". Time responded to the reception of the film with plans to name the character as its "Mammal of the Year" (a play on its annual "Man/Person of the Year" honor), with an appearance on the cover of the magazine's edition of December 29, 1941. However, the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 of that year shifted the news cycle away from Dumbo, although the previously planned essay on the film, with a more appropriate introduction, appeared in the December 29 issue's "Cinema" section.
The film holds a 98% "certified fresh" rating at movie aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, its Critics' Consensus reads "Dumbo packs plenty of story into its brief runtime, along with all the warm animation and wonderful music you'd expect from a Disney classic." another aggregator Metacritic has assigned a weighted score of 96 out of 100 for Dumbo based on 11 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".
Awards and honors
Dumbo won the 1941 Academy Award for Best Original Score, awarded to musical directors Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace. Churchill and lyricist Ned Washington were also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Baby Mine" (the song that plays during Dumbo's visit to his mother's cell), but did not win for this category. The film also won Best Animation Design at the 1947 Cannes Film Festival.
|1941||Academy Awards||Best Scoring of a Musical Picture||Won|
|Best Original Song
(For the song "Baby Mine")
|1947||Cannes Film Festival||Best Animation Design||Won|
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
Writer Richard Schickel charged that the crow characters in the film are African American stereotypes in his book, The Disney Version (1968). The leader crow, played by Cliff Edwards, was originally named "Jim Crow" for script purposes. However, all of the other crows were voiced by African-American actors, who were all members of the popular all-black Hall Johnson Choir. Despite suggestions by writers such as Schickel who have criticized the portrayal as racist, other writers have rejected these claims. Defenders note that the crows form the majority of the characters in the movie who are sympathetic to Dumbo's plight, that they are free spirits who bow to no one, and that they are intelligent characters aware of the power of self-confidence, unlike the Stepin Fetchit stereotype common in the previous decade. Furthermore, the crows' song "When I See An Elephant Fly", which uses intricate wordplay in the lyrics, is oriented more toward mocking Timothy Mouse than Dumbo's large ears.
In July 2017, after being inaugurated as a Disney Legend, Whoopi Goldberg expressed a desire for the crow characters to be merchandised by Disney, "because those crows sing the song in Dumbo that everybody remembers."
Media and merchandise
Dumbo's Circus is a live-action/puppet television series for preschool audiences that aired on The Disney Channel in the 1980s. Unlike in the film, Dumbo spoke on the show. Each character would perform a special act, which ranged from dancing and singing to telling knock knock jokes.
- Walt Disney's Dumbo: Happy to Help: (ISBN 0-7364-1129-1) A picture book published by Random House Disney, written by Liane Onish and illustrated by Peter Emslie. It was published January 23, 2001. This paperback is for children aged 4–8. Twenty-four pages long, its 0.08 of an inch thick, and with cover dimensions of 7.88 x 7.88 inches.
- Walt Disney's Dumbo Book of Opposites: (ISBN 0-307-06149-3) A book published in August 1997 by Golden Books under the Golden Board Book brand. It was written by Alan Benjamin, illustrated by Peter Emslie, and edited by Heather Lowenberg. Twelve pages long and a quarter of an inch thick, this board edition book had dimensions of 7.25 x 6.00 inches.
- Walt Disney's Dumbo the Circus Baby: (ISBN 0-307-12397-9) A book published in September 1993 by Golden Press under the A Golden Sturdy Shape Book brand. Illustrated by Peter Emslie and written by Diane Muldrow, this book is meant for babies and preschoolers. Twelve pages long and half an inch thick, this book's cover size is 9.75 x 6.25 inches.
The Ringmaster appears as one of four villains in the 1999 PC game Disney's Villains' Revenge. In the game, the Disney Villains alter the happy endings from Jiminy Cricket's book; in particular, the Ringmaster forces Dumbo to endlessly perform humiliating stunts in his circus. In the end, the Ringmaster is defeated when he is knocked unconscious by a well-aimed custard pie.
Dumbo appears in the popular PlayStation 2 game Kingdom Hearts released in 2002 in the form of a summon that the player can call upon in battle for aid. Sora, the protagonist, flies on Dumbo while he splashes enemies with water from his trunk. Dumbo reprises his role as a summon in the follow-up game Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories released in 2004 for the Game Boy Advance.
In 2001, the "60th Anniversary Edition" DVD of Dumbo featured a sneak peek of the proposed sequel Dumbo II, including new character designs and storyboards. Robert C. Ramirez (Joseph: King of Dreams) was to direct the sequel, in which Dumbo and his circus friends navigated a large city after being left behind by their traveling circus. Dumbo II also sought to explain what happened to Dumbo's father, Mr. Jumbo. Dumbo's circus friends included the chaotic twin bears Claude and Lolly, the curious zebra Dot, the older, independent hippo Godfry, and the adventurous ostrich Penny. The animals were metaphors for the different stages of childhood. Dumbo II was supposed to be set on the day immediately following the end of the first Dumbo movie. John Lasseter cancelled Dumbo II, soon after being named Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2006.
On July 8, 2014, Walt Disney Pictures announced that a live-action adaptation of Dumbo was in development. In the same announcement, Ehren Kruger was confirmed as the screenwriter, as well as co-producer with Justin Springer. On March 10, 2015, Tim Burton was announced as the director. On January 11, 2017, it was reported that Will Smith is in talks to star in the remake as the father of some children who befriend Dumbo. That same day, it was revealed that Tom Hanks had reportedly been offered to play the film's villain. The following month, it was announced that Smith would not be starring in the film. Smith had apparently passed on the project due to a disagreement over salary and scheduling as well as to star in Bad Boys for Life. In March 2017, it was reported that Eva Green was in talks to play a trapeze artist. Following this announcement, Danny DeVito was cast as a ringleader named Medici. Two weeks later, it was reported that Colin Farrell had entered negotiations to play the role of Holt, which was originally offered to Will Smith. On April 4, 2017, Michael Keaton, Burton's former frequent collaborator, entered talks to star as the villain. Keaton confirmed his involvement with the film on June 26, 2017. Filming took place at Cardington Studios in Bedfordshire, England. On July 15, 2017, Disney announced the casting for all of the principal roles and that the film would be released on March 29, 2019. DeObia Oparei, Joseph Gatt and Alan Arkin also play new characters created for the film.
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Tim Burton’s Dumbo is also building sets at Cardington, so some of these props and set pieces could be for that film as well. What do you think the structure could be? Hall of Justice? Watchtower? Steppenwolf’s lair? Dumbo’s circus?
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