Movies That Ruined My Childhood: Dumbo

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Movies That Ruined My Childhood.

220px-Dumbo-1941-posterDisney has been busy as of late.  Between Star Wars, Marvel, Zootopia and several big budget remakes, they have a lot of irons in the fire.  This weekend’s adaptation of The Jungle Book is ditching the hand-drawn cartoons for computer generated animals, which may leave some children with some vivid nightmares in the foreseeable future.  We’ve seen that Disney can traumatize young ones with their live-action fare, but the film that always stood out to me as having some of the most inexplicable scenes of grotesquery is the old family favorite, Dumbo.

Dumbo (1941)

Dumbo is an elephant born into captivity.  His mother is a circus animal, and Dumbo is expected to follow in the tradition…only he’s not quite a majestic specimen of a center-ring pachyderm.  Dumbo is born with a set of gigantic ears, and this abnormality causes him no end of trouble.  He’s ostracized from the group, picked on by the circus staff and audience, and forced into a routine with the clowns who treat him like crud.  Thanks to a loyal friend, Timothy the mouse, and a magic feather, Dumbo is able to use his disability as a positive when he learns to fly.

Unlicensed air travel in the 1940's?  Somebody better have brought some flak!
Unlicensed air travel in the 1940’s? Somebody better have brought some flak!

Animal Cruelty

Umm...nope.
Umm…nope.

Dumbo is put through the ringer pretty much from the outset.  If you’re a precocious kid with distinguishing features, you’re about to get a taste of what middle school is going to be like when you see Dumbo get flack from pretty much everybody.  Even the clowns ridicule him.  The clowns.  How low on the pecking order do you have to be when clowns think they’ve got something over on you?  Not only do they degrade him, but them put him through a high-wire act involving fire and a certainly lethal drop that would make PETA foam at the mouth.  Speaking of madness…

Dumbo’s Ears Get His Mother Put in Solitary

That's not so bad...
That’s not so bad…

Dumbo’s mom is all sweetness and mother love for her offspring, but for anyone who tries to abuse him, she’s got a nasty temper.  We see her bully the other female elephants who turn their nose up at Dumbo early in the picture, but when a teenager jumps the ropes and actually grabs his ears, she goes ballistic.  She gives the rapscallion a sound spanking…

Hey now!
Hey now!

And then goes completely ham on the audience.  That doesn’t seem like a proportionate response.  That looks like somebody who’s just lost their goddamn mind.  For her outburst she’s thrown into a cage barely large enough to stand in, and can only interact with her child through the iron bars.  That’s not exactly family friendly story telling there.

Home, sweet home.
Home, sweet home.

Surprise, Disney’s Racist!

Positive role models.
Positive role models.

Those of us who saw Song of the South before Disney decided to permanently retire that film, know that old Walt’s conception of black culture is not exactly up to modern standards.  Well, Dumbo and Timothy end up in a tree, and a group of “free spirited” crows start to give them the business.  The group is an assemblage of pretty bald-faced racial stereotypes, led by a cigar chomping leader named Jim.  Jim Crow.  As in the racial segregation laws.  Oh Boy.  Dumbo isn’t Song of the South, but its pretty tin-eared and comes off as pretty awful 70+ years later.

By the by, how did Dumbo end up in that tree?  Why he flew there after getting hammered drunk, naturally.

Dumbo Gets Tanked

Oh God, here we go...
Oh God, here we go…

The real “see you later in nightmares” scene from Dumbo is the Pink Elephant Parade.  Dumbo and Timothy drink from a bucket that’s been spiked, and start to trip balls.  Pink circus elephants from the seventh circle of hell show up and chase the pair through one hell of a black-out.  Years later, that scene still gives me the jibblies.  Showing the hero in your animated film drunk is bad enough, but did you need empty the whole bottle of terror sauce on top of that crap-sandwich?

The Final Word

You know what you've done!
You know what you’ve done!

Dumbo has some ridiculously high ratings for a film about animal abuse, bullying, underage drinking and clowns.  I figured having a significant number of clowns in the picture would have tanked the rating, but I guess people were more accepting of delinquents in grease paint back in the day.  A repeat viewing of the movie makes you pretty sure you couldn’t get away with 90% of the stuff in this film today, happy ending or no.  Well, unless you name was Don Bluth

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