Archive for November 13th, 2011

by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

“Fixing a Hole” is a series whose sole purpose is to review films that have not yet been covered on Wonders in the Dark. The theme for November is “Animated Animals.”

While Joel has selected all the titles, certain films have been assigned to guest writers. This week Checking on My Sausages‘ Stephen, who conducted the Animation Countdown on Wonders in the Dark, takes a look at the pros and cons of Disney’s 1941 cartoon.

Dumbo (1941/United States/directed by Samuel Armstrong, Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts, Ben Sharpsteen)

stars the voices of Edward Brophy, Sterling Holloway, Cliff Edwards, Herman Bing

written by Joe Grant, Dick Huemer, Otto Englander, Bill Peet, Aurelius Battaglia, Joe Rinaldi, Vernon Stallings, Webb Smith from the book by Helen Aberson, Harold Pearl • music by Frank Churchill, Oliver Wallace • animation department: Art Babbitt, James Bodrero, Ward Kimbell, John Lounesbury, John P. Miller, Maurice Noble, Elmer Plummer, Martin Provenson, Woolie Reitherman, Vladimir Tytla, John Walbridge, Frank Thomas, and others • produced by Walt Disney

The Story: Dumbo, an elephant with big ears, is born to a circus animal. Shunned by the rest of the herd (“his disgrace is our own shame”), he is mocked and ridiculed by man and beast alike. Mrs. Jumbo, his mother, is whipped and caged for trying to protect her child. Separated from her, a sad Dumbo tries, with the help of a mouse and a band of crows, to get by in the circus business and find a way to be reunited with his mother.

Maybe those ears, those very things that held him down, will carry him up and up…


The character of Dumbo, the elephant who can (spoilers ahead) fly, is said to have been inspired by a comic strip on the back of a cereal box. Dumbo the story is itself a brief and simple sketch, but one hour long. The style is simple too, recalling the animations of pioneer Winsor McCay (Gertie the Dinosaur) in both line and movement. After the flamboyant excesses, and financial losses, of Fantasia, Dumbo is Disney pared down and relatively unassuming.

The opening scene in which the animals board a (anthropomorphised) train, is as colourful as a nursery and has a curiosity and energy that is quite different from the sickly nannying charm offensive that afflicts many Disney films. It is during this journey a stork delivers a child to Mrs.Jumbo. The train choo choos through the landscape and as it grinds to a halt at its destination, the music too slows down to a stop. It’s fun.

Once the characters are properly introduced and the story gets going, this energy becomes trying when applied to every situation and almost every animal and person. It’s all big. There are quite a lot of children’s films that think that, to be enjoyed by children, everybody in them has to act like a child or a fool. It is like the adult who leans into the pram and goes “coochy-coo!”.


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