Dumbo

Dumbo

*****

Reviewed by: Max Blinkhorn

How I remember being upset by this film when I first saw it - I was six. It has many heart-rending moments and yet I can see now that its innards are as black as an unlit circus tent. It makes me realise that old Walt must have had some unresolved issues that he liked to play with when conceiving such films. Maybe a bit of well-drawn dysfunction is what's missing in Disney's current crop.

Shame, if you've never seen Dumbo before! It has so many qualities that there isn't enough space to highlight them, so much light and shade, so many different, varied facets. What would George Dubya's Middle America say about drunken mice?

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In case you don't know, Dumbo arrives late to the circus, thanks to his flaky stork deliveryman. However, the elephants in his shelter are impressed with the beautiful new baby until a loud sneeze reveals his giant ears. From then on, he and his mother are persecuted by the other elephants and then separated by brutish men in the most appalling way. The sadness of their intertwining trunks through the bars of a locked cage is total and leaves me desolate every time. What happens to them constitutes a perfect exposition of how bullying and persecution come about and the consequences that follow. It ought to be used as a psychology case study.

Given the limitations of 1941 techniques, Disney's fourth full-length animated feature is astounding in terms of concept and execution. It is supremely stylish and the camera angles are almost avant-garde. I've always adored the Pink Elephants On Parade sequence, especially the Technicolor Pachyderms line.

There are some quite disturbing effects and my three-year-old doesn't like them. Other aspects are very politically incorrect, especially the notion that if elephants can fly, what excellent bomber aircraft they would make.

Dumbo is only 64 minutes long and, to my mind, this is its only flaw. The pace is perfect and the plot well-developed, so maybe I just want more. For a parent, the test is how many viewings you can stand. My daughter seems to watch it once a fortnight, on and off, and in her company it seems great every time, patronising neither children, nor adults, displaying utter and absolute charm.

Amazing!

Reviewed on: 27 Nov 2004
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Dumbo packshot
Circus elephant with big ears beats the bullies thanks to his friendship with a mouse.
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Director: Ben Sharpsteen

Writer: Joe Grant, Dick Huemer

Starring: voices of Edward Brophy, Herman Bing, Sterling Holloway, Cliff Edwards, Verna Felton

Year: 1941

Runtime: 64 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

Bambi