Fly Away, Dumbo

Netflix has been in the news a lot recently for severely angering their customers. I was irritated when they hiked their prices, I was disappointed when they planned to split the streaming and DVD websites into two. But now, I’m just plain mad.
            I was very excited to stop by the post office and get my latest Netflix movie. I’ve never seen any part of Dumbo, other than clips from Disney Scene-It (the to-go version; no one would play the full version with me. I have to twist arms just to get people to play the to-go version). Imagine my crushing disappointment to open the envelope and see… Meet the Robinsons. Now, had I already watched Dumbo and had I been expecting Robinsons, I would not have been disappointed. Because of mailing schedules and my irritation with having to return it, re-add it to the queue, and then call and say I want to wait out the ‘short wait’ for Dumbo, I’ve decided to try and watch Dumbo online and keep Robinson’s. I’ll still keep Dumbo as number one on the queue, so I can watch the special features (which better not be disappointing).
            Apparently Dumbo isn’t available online. Not even on YouTube. Oh, copyright laws. Usually I love them, but they can be kind of irritating, too. Since I have to out of order with Saludos Amigos/Three Caballeros—because they are only available on a joint disc—I’ll have to make an exception and go out of order with Dumbo and Meet the Robinsons. The chapters will still be in the proper order, though.
            Dumbo finally arrived and didn’t disappoint. Our offer on a house was accepted (more details on that in the following chapter, since it coincides with Meet the Robinsons). The day after our home inspection (who knew it took three and half hours?!), we were already pleased because nothing major is wrong with our almost-house. I can’t call it our house yet, because we haven’t closed, thus the almost-house. I dropped by the post office on route to spend time with friends in Eagle River and Anchorage, and there it was, patiently waiting for me: Dumbo.
            The most lasting impression I have of Dumbo is both visual and an observation of the whole film: Dumbo is swinging in his mother’s trunk as she sings him Baby Mine. They’re separated by a wooden crate and iron bars, but she still manages to comfort him. My observation is that once again, Disney uses non-verbal communication to express the emotion of the scene (as we barely see Mrs. Jumbo, his mom). It’s the music and the image of Dumbo that makes the scene emotional. In fact, Dumbo doesn’t speak at all, during the entire 63 minute film.
            Dumbo is unlike the other Disney features thus far. It’s drawn much more cartoon-like, and this point is further validated by the presence of two short “Silly Symphonies” cartoons in the bonus features. It’s only 63 minutes long, as opposed to the hour-and-thirty length of most of the others. But it’s the perfect length: the story is completely told by minute 63.
            Bonus features have gotten me into trouble once again. I watched the making of Dumbo before the film itself, and saw a scene with Timothy the mouse telling off the crows, saying Dumbo is an orphan. Pause—Dumbo’s mom dies? Really? Great, now I’m going to cry. So I watch the movie and am so relieved that she doesn’t die, that the fact that they’re separated doesn’t upset me that much. They’re only separated for a short while, she’s not seriously injured, she doesn’t die, he can still see her some. Compared to her actually dying, it’s not that bad.
            Bullying has been in the news and social media quite a bit lately. While the bullied get the worst of the pain, sometimes parents make it worse. For instance, in Dumbo, the mean kids are making faces at Dumbo and saying mean things. Instead of reacting negatively, Dumbo just prances around, showing off his ears. He doesn’t understand that they’re being mean, and so his feelings aren’t hurt. Mrs. Jumbo actually made the situation much worse by trying to move him away. That made the mean kids start actually touching Dumbo, pulling his ears. That moment, when his ears get pulled and he starts trying to hide, is when he starts hurting. Before that, only his mother’s pride was hurt. Now I’m not saying parents always make it worse or even generally make it worse; I’m not a parent, I don’t have a child that’s been bullied. I understand the mom’s reasoning: her baby is being picked on. She wants to protect him. Most parents want to protect their children from pain. Ultimately, she made the situation worse by spanking the ringleader of the mean kids. People interpreted that as attacking, and she was whipped and separated from Dumbo.
            Timothy mouse—he’s a stand up kind of guy. I was so proud of him, scaring off all the mean old lady elephants and befriending Dumbo, always sticking up for him. It takes someone of strong moral character to stand up to bullies who aren’t even bullying him (this is not always good—remember Simba and the hyenas in the elephant graveyard? They were way bigger than him and Zazu was no longer in danger. Not a good move). The message from this film—to not let other’s opinion of you be greater than your own, to stand up to bullies even when those who they’re bullying won’t stand up to them—are golden. I love the message, it was presented beautifully. It provided the financial means to continue making films, whereas Pinocchio and Fantasia were not financially successful.
            I also have a soft spot for Dumbo—other than the fact that he’s just so darn cute!- because the making of his film has some parallels to the making of The Lion King. Both times, the studio was working on another film they thought would be a bigger success (Bambi, Pocahontas). This allowed those animators, writers, director and producers working on the ‘B-film’, or second priority, to really flourish. They had an environment where they weren’t being closely monitored, where they could really showcase their talent. Animators who had never been a character lead were suddenly a character lead. The low-expectation environments produced some of Walt’s most famous films. Dumbo made money when the studio desperately needed it while Lion King earned critical acclaim and is still the highest-grossing animated feature to ever hit theatres.
            Dumbo is just one of those lovely films that when you think of it, you just smile. Sometimes that’s all you really need. This morning, it gave me a smile when I really needed it. It’s mid-October and our weather is just odd. All day Sunday it was grey and raining. It’s only the second or third time I’ve seen steady rain since we moved here; it just doesn’t usually happen. We get steady drizzle, but not steady rain. Then last night it dropped below freezing, and as James was driving to work, the rain turned to snow. When he got to work, it was snowing like crazy. The ground was too warm for it to stick (thank goodness—the roads were too warm for ice to form as well). In any case, on my way to work this morning I was subject to one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen. The sun was rising over freshly-snowed upon mountains (it’s been sticking up there for a while), the clouds breaking apart at the sun’s rays. The entire Knik River Arm was blanketed in heavy fog, but our road is elevated enough that fog didn’t block my view. Strings of fog had broken apart and drifted upward, where they were slowly shrinking under the warmth of the sun. I kept looking to the side as I drove, enjoying the sparkly view. Then, just a few miles from my house, my eyes got teary. There was broken glass in the road, a car pulled over and a man standing outside of it. Off to the side, the moose lay on its side, eyes closed and unmoving. And I knew, without a doubt, it had died. I was relieved the driver was okay, which I knew because he had pulled the moose out of the road (this had obviously just occurred as there were no emergency personnel on sight yet). But the death of the moose made me so very, very sad. I know I’m a bit sentimental and emotional and the death of the moose probably didn’t bother very many people. Thankfully there wasn’t blood or else I may have had to pull over—I can’t handle blood. But since moving here, I’ve felt as if I’m living on their land. After all, moose were here long before people. It’s probably silly, but I probably feel that way because of my Native American heritage.
            Part of what I love about Alaska are the mountains that surround the valley I live in. The Alaska Range, Talkeetna Range and Chugach Range make a barrier around our town and the ones near it, and I feel a bit safer for them. It doesn’t make much sense, but it probably has to do with my nomadic ancestry and the value in finding a place difficult for invaders to attack. I would say the Valley is certainly that.
            Another reason I like the mountains is because I know they’re the home for the moose during the summer. I love seeing wild life in Alaska. It may make me a little frightened to run outdoors, but it’s worth it. So when I see that wild life killed because of roads and possibly that very sunlight I had been admiring blinding the driver momentarily, it makes me sad. Compared to the rest of the U.S., Alaska is relatively unspoiled. It’s why we like it here so much. And today, when I saw the poor moose, I felt like I was part of the force spoiling it.

          It’s appropriate that Bambi is next, what with all my nature talk (no, I’m not a hippie—please don’t put the book down. It’ll get back to focusing on Disney, no worries). I’m a little nervous, since I know the mom dies in the first few minutes. But out of tragedy comes stronger characters—that’s the over-arching theme of Disney.


One thought on “Fly Away, Dumbo

  1. Hey Christine,I'm a friend of Sijo's (a much older friend) and Sijo's mom thinks that we should meet, and I think she's right. I'm a 21 girl still in college who's a huge Disney junkie that lives (from what I understand) about thirty minutes away. I wanted to send you a private message but it doesn't look like that's possible on here… Anyways, if you'd like to grab a coffee and get to know someone around town, email me at I'm interested to hear about this book your writing about Disney films. I hope you get the chance to take the Disney film class at the local uni. I took it twice. It's wonderful. Mary


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