Dumbo is a 1941 animated feature film produced by Walt Disney and first released on October 23, 1941 by RKO Radio Pictures. The fourth film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics, Dumbo is based upon a child's book of the same name by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Perl. The main character is Jumbo Jr., a semi-anthropomorphic elephant who is cruelly nicknamed Dumbo. He is ridiculed for his big ears, but in fact he is capable of flying by using them as wings. Throughout some of the film, his only true friend aside from his mother is the mouse Timothy, parodying the stereotypical animosity between mice and elephants.
Dumbo is left alone and constantly ridiculed by the other elephants, until a friendly little mouse named Timothy (who has been watching Dumbo crying alone and feels sorry for him) scares the elephants and befriends Dumbo, determined to make him happy again. His plan of getting the Ringmaster (by "talking" to him during his sleep, pretending to be his subconscious) to make Dumbo the climax of his next elephant act backfires when Dumbo slips on his ears again and literally causes the circus to collapse, injuring all the elephants, leaving them badly bruised and more disapproving of Dumbo than ever before.
Dumbo is subsequently made into a clown, and becomes the star attraction of the show. Although he is clearly loved and praised by the audience, he hates his job and misses his mother greatly, with Timothy as his only friend. To cheer Dumbo up, Timothy takes him to visit his imprisoned mother, although all she can do is gently rock him side to side with her trunk, as she cannot reach him due to her chains. Timothy sees all the other baby animals happy with their mothers, and reflects on how the boy who bullied Dumbo was not punished. He sheds a tear as the time comes for them to leave, and Dumbo starts crying again, so much that he gets the hiccups.
To cure the hiccups, Timothy takes Dumbo for a drink of water from a bucket, not knowing that the clowns, during their celebration, accidentally knocked a bottle of beer in it. Within seconds, Dumbo and Timothy are both drunk.
The next morning, Dumbo and Timothy are woken up by a group of crows, and the leader of them, Jim Crow, while laughing his head off, reveals to them that they are somehow in their tree. In shock, Dumbo loses his balance, and they fall to the ground in a puddle. As they walk back to the circus, Timothy wonders how they ended up in the tree, and Jim Crow jokingly suggests that they must have flown up. Timothy takes this seriously and gets excited, and the crows start bullying Dumbo about his flying ears by singing the song "When I See An Elephant Fly". Enraged, Timothy lashes out at the crows for picking on Dumbo, and tells them Dumbo's tragic story. The crows are shocked to hear this, and even start crying for Dumbo.
Jim Crow, clearly feeling guilty, suggests a way to make Dumbo happy again, thinking that Dumbo might be able to fly if his confidence is boosted. Timothy and the crows present Dumbo with a feather which they claim to be magical. The crows then persuade Dumbo to flap his ears and leap off a cliff. Armed with the "magic feather", Dumbo is able to fly with ease.
During a particularly daring shallow dive, Dumbo loses the feather and nearly plummets to his death, until Timothy reveals that the feather was a fake, and that Dumbo's ability to fly was his own. At the last second, Dumbo pulls out of his dive and stuns the entire circus and audience at the astounding sight of an elephant flying. Now finally in command of the situation, Dumbo is able to indulge in a little revenge on his tormentors.
After the performance, Dumbo is a media sensation with Timothy as his manager. The film ends with the circus train having a luxury private car for Mrs. Jumbo and her child, the star of the circus. The Crows bid farewell after one last flight with Dumbo as the train moves on to the next destination.
After its October 23, 1941 release, Dumbo proved to be a financial miracle compared to other Disney movies. The film cost $813,000 to produce, half the cost of Snow White and less than a third of the cost of Pinocchio. Dumbo eventually grossed $1.6 million during its original release; it and Snow White were the only two pre-1943 Disney features to turn a profit (Barrier, 318). It was intended for Dumbo to be on the cover of the December 1941 issue of Time, but the idea was dropped when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, resulting in the United States entering World War II and reducing the box office draw of the film. It was also re-released theatrically on June 22, 1949, December 24, 1959, October 11, 1972, and March 26, 1976
This film was one of the first of Disney's animated films to be broadcast, albeit severely edited, on television, as part of Disney's anthology series. The film then received another distinction of note in 1981, when it was the first of Disney's canon of animated films to be released on home video and also was released in the Walt Disney Classics Video Collection in 1985. That release was followed by remastered versions in: 1986, 1989, 1991 (Classics), and 1994 (Masterpiece). In 2001, a 60th Anniversary Special Edition was released. In 2006, a "Big Top Edition" of the film was released on DVD. A UK Special Edition was released in May 2007 and was a successful Disney release.
The crow characters in the film are seen as African-American caricatures; the leader crow voiced by Cliff Edwards, a white man, was originally named "Jim Crow" for script purposes, and the name stuck. The other crows are all voiced by African-American actors, all members of the Hall Johnson Choir. Despite suggestions of racism by some, many historians such as Zoe Pritchard reject these claims. For instance, the crows are noted as forming the majority of the characters in the movie who are sympathetic to Dumbo's plight (the others are Timothy Q. Mouse and Mrs Jumbo), are free spirits who serve nobody, and intelligent characters aware of the power of self-confidence, unlike the Stepin Fetchit stereotype common at that time. Furthermore, their song "When I See An Elephant Fly" is more orientated to mocking Timothy Mouse than Dumbo's large ears.
Pixar's John Lasseter describes the scene where Timothy sees all the other baby animals happy with their mothers and reflects on how the boy who bullied Dumbo was not punished as "one of the most emotional scenes that Disney ever made,