Dumbo

 
Sweet Disney classic is still lovely, despite stereotypes.
  • Review Date: May 18, 2003
  • Rated: G
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 1941
  • Running Time: 63 minutes

What parents need to know

Educational value

Kids will learn how hurtful bullying can be, and they will be reminded not to make fun of people because of their appearance.

Positive messages

Includes important messages for kids, particularly about how it's wrong to make fun of someone because of the way they look. Our differences are what make us special, the mouse teaches Dumbo. Mrs. Jumbo's actions prove a mother's love is unconditional, and she will defend you no matter what.

Positive role models

There is ongoing controversy about whether the depiction of the crows is racist (originally one of them was called "Jim Crow" in the script, and they are all voiced with Amos 'n Andy-like accents by African-American actors). Despite the criticism, others claim the crows were all confident, free, and the only characters besides Timothy who are sympathetic to Dumbo. Timothy is supportive and encouraging from the first time he meets Dumbo, and Mrs. Jumbo is a loving, protective mother. Dumbo himself doesn't speak, but he manages to overcome his insecurity to fly at the crucial moment.

Violence & scariness

Mean kids at the circus pull on Dumbo's ears, so his mother spanks the boy's bottom with her trunk. As punishment, she's tied and chained and understandably tries to free herself -– throwing various circus workers around as a consequence. She's kept imprisoned in solitary confinement and branded a "mad elephant," leaving poor Dumbo friendless and alone. Dumbo's catastrophic circus act leads to the entire circus top coming down.

Sexy stuff

None, but Dumbo is delivered via stork instead of through a live birth, so some young children may wonder about that.

Language

The gossipy elephant cows make fun of baby Jumbo and call him "Dumbo," later they also take pleasure in Mrs. Jumbo's solitary confinement. The kids at the circus also poke fun of Dumbo's ears.

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

The clowns, who are shown in silhouette, are obviously drinking. Dumbo and his mouse friend Timothy accidentally get drunk after drinking what they think is water. While drunk, Dumbo has an elaborate (and creepy to some kids) hallucination with the infamously trippy "Pink Elephants on Parade" sequence.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that 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.

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?

QUALITY
 

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 this movie 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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about empathy by asking kids 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?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 31, 1941
DVD release date: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
Run time:63 minutes
MPAA rating:G

This review of Dumbo was written by

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Quality

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Written byAnonymous March 22, 2014
age 9+
 

Too scary and confusing

I watched this movie many times when I was younger and it scared me. Especially the parts when the people are setting up the tents in the storm. The pink elephants also freaked me out. I didn't understand that Dumbo was drunk and I had no idea why all of a sudden Dumbo was hallucinating. This movie scarred me and I wish I didn't watch it as a young child.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent of a 9 year old Written byerich April 9, 2008
age 5+
 

Somewhat outdated but redeemed by important content

In addition to the stereotypical depiction of the "black" crows mentioned in the Common Sense review, there is also a scene of faceless but apparently African American roustabouts setting up the circus in the rain. This scene could be offensive to some. There also is a scene in which Dumbo and Timothy drink alcohol-laced water and get very drunk. The following scene is hallucinogenic and somewhat threatening. (Walt seemed to have a significant interest in hallucination.) My 4 year old loves the drunk/bubble scene; he calls it "when they drink that funny green water," so the alcohol aspect is lost on him at this point. If you have concerns about the stereotyping of women, the elephants are all female and all extremely catty.
Teen, 15 years old Written byDominicboo1 May 10, 2011
age 2+
 

Now I Be Done Seeing About Everything!

Other than one scene where Dumbo drinks champagne that clowns spilled unknowingly, and the scene with Mrs. Jumbo tied up being sad there's nothing to really worry about. As for the crows being a stereotype, I agree it's wrong but children will think they're just animals with funny voices. It has a great message that being different is very fine. For what it's worth the drinking scene will probably make kids think that if they drink they'll have nightmares.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent of a 3 year old Written byTysMommy November 18, 2009
age 4+
 

May not be appropriate for today's audiences.

My son and I really identified with the strong emotional bond between Ms. Jumbo and Dumbo. This movie may be fine for older children who can engage in frank conversations about stereotypes and alcohol use after watching this film...but it's not for the preschool crowd.

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