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Truth and Tradition in Disney’s Dumbo

25 Jun

Several years ago I sent a long email to Mike Barrier, the animation historian, about Disney’s Dumbo. I couple days later I noticed that he’d posted it on his website, along with some frame grabs he’d added. I’m now reposting that essay here.

That’s all well and good, you say, but what has THAT got to do with Truth, Tradition, and the American Way?

Everything, I say, well, not everything, but a lot. Which I explain in some detail in the analysis. But I’ll give you a little taste here and now.

In the first place that film reaches deep into American myth and lore: trains, the circus, the value of labor. Yes, the value of labor, in Dumbo. The tent-raising scene is stunning, showing hard-working men. AND animals, because the animals helped raise the tent as well. So we’ve got cross-species solidarity. Further, those workers and animals are skeptical about management, deeply skeptical. Yet management, then as now, is sneaky.

Sneaky sneaky sneaky!

The film depicts managment manipulation of workers to set them at odds with one another. We see scapegoating in action. Poor little Dumbo is made to take the fall for managment greed and stupidity. Let me repeat that: Dumbo is made to take the fall for managment greed and stupidity.

And you know how Dumbo gets out of it? Interspecies solidarity with Timothy Mouse and with a mess of jivometric crows. Those crows teach Dumbo about the importance of groovology. There is nothing so deep and traditional about America as groovology, groovology of all sorts. Why, the first book published in America was a hymnal. What’s hymn singing but Groovology 103?–patty cake is Groovology 101 and double-dutch is Groovology 102.

I’ve gone on enough setting up this thing. Read review, watch the movie, and ask yourself: Could this film be made in American today and now with the 1% lording it over the 99%?


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