1. Just barely missing the green light
2. Fire ants
3. Social injustice
4. Dry heaving
It's taken me a long time to work my way up to Dumbo because I really do hate this movie. There are numerous reasons to detest the film besides the inevitable trauma it will cause to any child unfortunate enough to be subjected to it: the racially stereotyped crows, the racially stereotyped roustabouts, the terrifyingly trippy hallucinogenic "pink elephants" scene, and the creation of the nickname "Dumbo," which anyone with big ears has had to endure through gritted teeth since 1941.
The story is set in a circus (I hate circuses), which means there are clowns (I hate clowns). Our mute hero Dumbo is brought to his mother by the stork (this is Disney, after all) and everyone makes fun of him because of his big ears. I'm guessing that Dumbo is an African elephant mistakenly delivered to an Asian elephant, because the difference in ears is the easiest way to tell them apart. Also, in African elephants, both sexes have tusks, whereas in Asian elephants, usually only the males do. The more you know!
When some boys at the circus make fun of Dumbo and his mother defends him, she is declared a mad, dangerous elephant and locked up in a tiny cage. There is a heartbreaking scene where she cuddles Dumbo with her trunk through the bars of her cell. This teaches parents the valuable lesson that you should never stand up for your child's rights or you might get locked away forever.
Much of the movie is devoted to depictions of animal cruelty-- the elephants are whipped, tied down, made to wear silly costumes and makeup, pushed off of high dives, coerced into building the big top themselves (hegemony!), crammed into tiny train cars, and forced to perform stupid tricks (an elephant pyramid? Really?). (Incidentally, it amazes me that there are still touring circuses that use performing elephants. Do yourself a favor and go see Cirque du Soleil instead; animal-cruelty-free!)
Anyway, Timothy the mouse figures out that Dumbo's large ears can operate like wings and make him fly, but Dumbo just needs the confidence to try it, so Timothy gives him a purportedly "magic" feather to help him out. When Dumbo loses the feather, he loses his confidence and begins to fall midair. All turns out right in the end, though, because Dumbo becomes famous as a flying elephant and is still forced to perform at the circus, every day, rapidly shuttled from grim city to even grimmer city on a tiny train car, because that's what every elephant really wants.
Believe in yourself and you can do anything! Why study for a test when you can hold a magic feather instead?
Dumbo. Dir. Ben Sharpsteen. Perf. Sterling Holloway, Edward Brophy, Herman Bing. Disney, 1941.
Dumbo (60th Anniversary Edition)
Watch the trailer on YouTube here.