When Walt Disney Animation Studios released their very first animated feature film "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" back in 1937, it became a sensation. The film became a critical and huge commercial success and it even allowed Walt Disney to build a new studio lot in Burbank where the company remains headquartered to this day. However, the success of "Snow White" was short-lived and the studio began to struggle as the 1940s began. In the midst of their trouble though, one animated movie did come out and was able to be both a financial and critical success. That film was "Dumbo". While this film may not be one of my top favorite Disney films, I still think there's a lot of charm and heartwarming moments in it that still make it a delight to watch over seventy years later.
At a circus, many animals have had their new babies delivered by Mr. Stork (Sterling Holloway). One of these animals is the elephant Mrs. Jumbo who names her new baby Jumbo Jr. However, the babies ears are abnormally huge compared to an ordinary elephant and he is then given the nickname "Dumbo" by the other elephants including their pompous leader the Elephant Matriarch (Verna Felton). Dumbo's situation doesn't improve though since his mother is then locked up in a cage after defending him from some bratty kids visiting the circus as well as the other elephants continuing to shun him. He does, however, get a new unlikely friend and mentor named Timothy Q. Mouse (Edward Brophy). Hoping to show the potential of Dumbo to the circus, Timothy teams up with the young elephant to find his skills which would eventually lead to the discovery that he can fly due to his massive ears.
Many may not know this, but Disney Animation was in a bad position during the time "Dumbo" was made. The year before, both "Pinocchio" and "Fantasia" had done very poorly at the box office mainly due to the ongoing Second World War cutting off European and Asian markets. Not only that, but Disney also lost several animators due to a strike that occurred in May of 1941 and RKO was even reluctant to release the final film due to its very short length of only sixty-three minutes. In the end, though, Disney did manage to finish the film and get it released and I think the final result still paid off in the end despite all the setbacks. The story has a very heartwarming feel to it and I think has a good message about believing in yourself. The film may not be very long as it is only sixty-three minutes long like I previously said, but it doesn't feel very short at all. It plays out perfectly and I'm glad it wasn't too long either otherwise some scenes would've gone on much longer than they needed to. I also really enjoyed the characters in the film. Dumbo may not have said a single word during the movie, but you can still feel his character due to the great animation done by Bill Tytla. I also appreciated Timothy as well for being a good pal and mentor for Dumbo as well as how he stood up to him against the other elephants that shunned him. It was a very nice moment to see. Though I think the real highlight of the movie is definitely the animation. I just love the look of this movie. The watercolor backgrounds give the film a storybook-like quality which I think was the perfect choice since it takes place in a circus. The bright and warm colors really complimented the story of the movie exceptionally well. Also, I figured we talk about the songs as well which are all fun and memorable. My favorites are probably the Oscar-nominated Baby Mine as well as the insane Pink Elephants on Parade. This is still to this day one of the most surreal animated sequences ever put on film. The way I would describe is if some of the illustrations of Dr. Suess came to life and just got even stranger by the second. It's such a surreal and weird scene, and I love it.
And personally, I think "Dumbo" still works after all these years later. The story is heartwarming and has a good message, the animation is fantastic with its colorful backgrounds, and the characters are all memorable. This was a fun film to rewatch again after all these years and I think it will continue to entrance and entertain audiences for more years to come.