Disney's Dumbo (1941)

in #filmlast year

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These next two Disney reviews are of movies I hate, a lot. Dumbo was easily one of my least favorite of all the movies, but since I haven't watched it since I was a kid I couldn't remember why. And it turns out that why is that there isn't anything that happens in this movie, at least not enough to warrant being a movie. It is, at best, a TV short that got needlessly stretched out to the length of a movie.

I'm not going to get much into the comedy as that is subjective, but the jokes just don't work for the most part. The talking train isn't random in a good way, it just... kind of talks and then things go on as normal. The Pink elephant acid trip (I don't believe for a moment it was alcohol spilled into the drinking water) was kind of interesting but entirely pointless. The only thing I liked about the movie was another entirely pointless scene, and that was the crows picking on Dumbo. Yes, they may have been racist caricatures of black people from back in the day, but they were funny and fun to watch, only really likable characters in the whole show (Okay, I do kind of like the Mouse too).

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The worst thing about this movie is that it kind of paints the idea of being famous in the circus as a good thing while simultaneously painting the people running the circus as cruel monsters who care nothing for the animals in their service, yet the movie ends with Dumbo winning them over by becoming a star. If they at least treated the animals with some kind of decency and respect that would be fine, but they just don't.

All that aside, the movie does have some good points. The show does a really good job of telling a story without words. Not that characters don't speak, Dumbo of course doesn't, but you always know what characters are feeling without them having to say it, and it's especially true of Dumbo. Though the best moments involve the Mouse, who never actually talks about his history at all. At the same time, with how he acts towards Dumbo, mixed with how he defends him from the Crows and how fantastic his expressions are, you can piece together his past was likely very similar to Dumbo's and that is where their connection comes from. Never does the movie state this, but the actions of the characters make it obvious without having to spell it all out.

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Despite my not liking this movie, watching it again I see this is a big step forward for Disney in terms of their storytelling in these films. Unlike shorts seen in Fantasia which only told a simple and easy to follow the story with Sorcerers Apprentice, Dumbo manages to say even more without explicitly stating it as I explained with the Mouse. It's obvious that their ability to craft a great movie is only growing at this point, it's just held down by the movie itself being too flimsy to be a full-length movie, the writing part of it all still hasn't come into its own yet. Still, it's clear even from these early stages why Disney Movies were such big hits.