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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dumbo, Disney's short-and-sweet tale of a shy little circus elephant with supersized ears, is considered controversial, because of its depiction of the black crows. On the one hand, critics claim the crows (who were in fact all voiced by African-American actors) are animated minstrels, whereas Disney apologists say the crows are the only likeable characters besides Dumbo, his mom, and Timothy the mouse. If you're okay with the representation of the crows, there are still a couple of disturbing scenes, particularly when Mrs. Jumbo is captured after defending Dumbo. Plus, Dumbo and Timothy accidentally get drunk and hallucinate the "Pink Elephants on Parade" segment, that's alternately trippy, creepy, and cute. Overall, the message is that we should celebrate and not mock each other's differences.
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What's the story?
Disney's classic animated tale of DUMBO begins when the stork delivers babies to the circus animals, including Mrs. Jumbo's baby, an elephant with enormous ears. The other elephants laugh at him and call him Dumbo, but Mrs. Jumbo loves him very much. When Dumbo is mistreated, she is furious and raises such a fuss that she is locked up. Dumbo is made part of the clown act, which embarrasses him very much. He is a big hit and, celebrating his good fortune, accidentally drinks champagne and becomes tipsy. The next morning, he wakes up in a tree, with no idea how he got there. It turns out that he flew! He becomes the star of the circus, with his proud mother beside him.
Is it any good?
This is a classic family film, with the gorgeous handcrafted animation that's a hallmark of early Disney films. Composers Oliver Wallace and Frank Churchill won Oscars for the film's musical score. The themes in Dumbo include friendship, tolerance of differences, and the importance of believing in yourself. Some of the characters (particularly the crows) are quite dated by today's standards, but kids will sill appreciate the story of the little elephant who learns to believe in himself.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how they would feel if everyone laughed at them the way the animals laugh at Dumbo. Why do the other elephants laugh at Dumbo's ears? How does that make him feel? What can kids do when they're laughed at or bullied?
Talk about friendship. How important it is to Dumbo to have a friend like Timothy? Why does Timothy tell Dumbo he needs the feather to fly? How does he learn that he does not need it?
Talk about the crows. What is the controversy about the crows? How have depictions of ethnicities and races changed since this movie was made? Can people still enjoy movies that contain dated stereotypes?
- In theaters: October 31, 1941
- On DVD or streaming: September 19, 2011
- Cast: Edward Brophy, Herman Bing, Sterling Holloway
- Director: Ben Sharpsteen
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Friendship, Wild Animals
- Character Strengths: Courage, Empathy
- Run time: 63 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.