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Legacy Review

Dumbo (1941)

In many ways, Dumbo feels like it should have been the first Disney animated feature. It’s short and narratively simplistic; it flows like a whole bunch of uneven 3-10 minute shorts stitched together; portions of the animation are obviously cheaply and quickly assembled; and the audio often feels cobbled together.

And yet Dumbo ultimately works despite the film’s visible seams. There’s just too much talent and love behind it. Every character animation is distinct and lively, the watercolor backgrounds are lovely, the story’s comic and dramatic beats mostly land.

Dumbo’s encounter with his caged mother is one of Disney’s most touching moments — such expressiveness in the cuddling trunks.

But even beyond the “Baby Mine” sequence, the psychedelic “Pink Elephants on Parade” is Dumbo’s tour de force moment. Every time I see it I’m thrilled and horrified at the bad-acid-trip-explosion of neon nightmares floating and shifting and dancing across a black background.

The asterisk on the film is, of course, the crows — racist caricatures. And yet they feel less vile than some of Disney’s other racist vestiges, as they are among the most appealing and generous characters in the story.

Dumbo isn’t a film I revisit too often. Its story is too simple, meandering and dawdling even in its 64 minutes. But there’s so much to admire and enjoy and soak in, that I don’t begrudge anyone calling it a masterpiece.

Is It Good?

Very Good (6/8)

Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.


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