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Dumbo (Ben Sharpsteen, 1941)

It was a major mistake that I left this one off my list initially, but you know me. I have to try to rile up people. I want to talk about Dumbo, the movie. I don't really want to talk about ignorant people's perceptions of racism, so I'm saving that for later. See what I said about me being the "Rile-Up King"?

The first time I watched Dumbo, I thought it was cute. It didn't really register on my psyche as anything very significant; it was just some kids' movie which was over in about an hour and was sorta painless and inconsequential. Boy, was I completely dense! In 64 minutes, Dumbo tells a story of tolerance and belief in doing what you are capable of doing. It teaches you to overcome prejudices while trying to stay tight with family. It also teaches you to sometimes trust strangers because they might turn out to be your best friends, especially if your own kind reject you. At least, that's all there in the film, if you can appreciate it in between crying, laughing and smiling so much.

This is one of the more memorable tearjerker scenes in fim history. Several of the elephants made fun of Dumbo's big ears, causing his mother to rip up the joint and try to put them in their place. Subsequently, she was labeled as a "mad elephnat" and imprisoned. It's still often true that the individual who rebels against tyranny and prejudice is often identified as the trouble maker and forced to pay for others' sins.

Dumbo was part of the heyday of Disney's animated output. In the span of three years (1940-1942), Disney's animators produced four films which were released, and all four are classics. The lone financial bomb was Fantasia. The public ate up Pinocchio, Dumbo and Bambi. I personally love Pinocchio at least as much as Dumbo, especially for the simplicity of how the former film explains the spiritual concepts of free will and resurrection, but I'll save that for a later post. Dumbo should be a must-see and a Hall-of-Fame flick even if it only contained the Pink Elephants sequence. Timothy the Mouse and Dumbo both drink water spiked with champagne which the clowns tossed into a tub. After they "wake up", they see this... perhaps the five best minutes of any Disney movie.

The next scene is often considered the most racist in the film. The crows are spoken by African Americans, and they sing and jive just like you might expect from a 1940s jive-era movie. At the end of the "Pink Elephants" scene, both Dumbo and Timothy are up in the trees, but these "streetwise" crows don't buy it. It's sorta funny they can accept an elephant in a tree but cannot consider that maybe he got up there on his own power. It's too bad they don't have the continuation scene where the crows don't make fun of Dumbo but actually encourage him to try to be "all that he can be". The crows are true heroes in the movie, and they're certainly not treated like second-class citizens. I'll also verify that Dumbo and his mom love the honest crows at the end much more than the sycophantic "white" elephants, at least if you HAVE to play the race card to watch this lovely film. The final scenes of Dumbo are actually my fave, which is saying a lot. It may have the Happiest Ending Ever.