Jumbo Jr. (1941)
Dumbo for Radicals
Dumbo is clearly an allegory for overcoming the oppression that “The Man” (or bourgeoisie, if you want to go old skool) puts upon the people.
We decided to entitle this post Jumbo Jr., as that is the elephant’s name. Dumbo was a demeaning name given to Jumbo Jr. to keep him down. Disney, continuing to be The Man opts to mock this heroic figure by going with the epithet, rather than a mother’s tribute to Jumbo Sr.
Jumbo Jr. represents the voiceless and innocent of the masses, and their vulnerability to The Man unless they come to realize their own power. Mrs. Jumbo represents those who act out of compassion to defend the voiceless, but are deemed “mad” and “dangerous” for doing so. The other elephants (those who call Jumbo Jr. “Dumbo”) represent those of the masses who are more comfortable sustaining a status quo that is unjust, even to the point of seeing no moral or ethical issue with cruelly shunning their own kind (even a child whose mother is unjustly imprisoned) and mocking them because they’re different (Jumbo’s large ears) while still respecting their oppressors.
The men, for the most part are The Man, although there is a noticeable exception. The black labourers who toil alongside the animals to put up the big top are clearly not The Man. However, Disney (being The Man again) seems to show contempt for the labourers in the song they sing while working:
Notice how they are faceless (just like the black blobbish workers in Pinocchio)? Interesting.
Here are the most notable parts:
We work all day, we work all night
We never learned to read or write
We’re happy-hearted roustabouts
When other folks have gone to bed
We slave until we’re almost dead
We’re happy-hearted roustabouts
We don’t know when we get our pay
And when we do, we throw our pay away
(When we get our pay, we throw our money all away)
We get our pay when children say
With happy hearts, “It’s circus day today”
(Then we get our pay, just watching kids on circus day)
Back near breaking
Eggs and bacon what we need (Yes, sir!)
Boss man houndin’
Keep on poundin’
For your bed and feed
There ain’t no let up
Must get set up
Pull that canvas! Drive that stake!
Want to doze off
Get them clothes off
But must keep awake
Swing that sledge! Sing that song!
Work and laugh the whole night long
Keep on working!
Stop that shirking!
Grab that rope, you hairy ape!
NOTE: No apes were shown assisting in the work therefore we can assume Disney is calling the human workers apes.
There are two possibilities here:
1) They’re writing a song in which the workers describe their plight (including the mocking names that their bosses might call them) and sarcastically describe themselves being joyful about it. OR
2) The writers were just being insensitive jerks.
We suspect Option 2 is more realistic. Disney is clearly The Man.
Side Note: Jim Crow
The crows featured in this film are clearly Jim Crow-era stereotypes of African Americans. In script development, the lead crow was actually named Jim Crow. [Are you serious?] And he wasn’t even voiced by a black man. That means they had some white guy pulling his best Amos and Andy out of his ass, and they thought it was good enough. They’re portrayed as slouching, like vultures not crows, and loafing around. Some have pointed out ‘positive’ aspects of this depiction, stating, for example that the crows use creative wordplay. Elements such as creative wordplay were frequently exhibited in minstrel shows and early Amos and Andy and we know how wholesome and respectful those endeavors were. While the racist overtones here are perhaps not as bad as others of the time period, the combination of the stereotypes portrayed by the crows and the black labourers earlier in the film, leaves one thinking that, at the very least, Disney was insensitive in its perpetuation of negative black stereotypes. We suggest:
Bamboozled by Spike Lee
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
As the movie progresses, Jumbo Jr.–temporarily orphaned by his mother’s imprisonment, not to mention the complete contempt the other elephants show him–is forced to be a clown. The only way he can get any kind of acceptance is to cover up his true self with make-up, but even then he is still treated as a freak, and is literally pushed around (despite being in sheer terror).
The human clowns (also The Man) conspire to put Jumbo Jr. into some unnecessarily risky working conditions. When one clown expresses a conscience and fears for Jumbo Jr.’s safety, the other clowns refuse to hear him, dismissing the reality of his personhood, saying “Elephants ain’t got no feelings!” and “They’re made of rubber!”
They’ve decided to not think about Jumbo Jr.’s worth, or how he might feel about being put into a very distressing situation, because doing that might inhibit their success.
There is also the possibility that, rather than being The Man, the clowns represent those amongst the masses who are willing to be involved in persecuting others, to be accepted by “The Man”.
Both Timothy Mouse a.k.a. T-Mo, and (during a brief prison visit) Mrs. Jumbo, help Jumbo Jr. to feel valued (bringing a tear to our collective eyes with a song that says “Don’t cry”) providing some love and friendship through these difficult circumstances.
Jumbo Jr. seems somewhat hopeless when, after accidentally becoming intoxicated and ending up in a tree, both he and T-Mo meet some crows. The mouse comes to the unlikely theory that Jumbo Jr. could fly. With some psychological assistance from the crows, Jumbo Jr. works up the courage to attempt flight, and discovers for himself his own power (in this case the power of flight). He is no longer held down by anything, and as a result, is able to defy all of the expectations and pressure put upon him by The Man.
However, the end is not so much about a revolution of the masses, but rather of one person overcoming oppression. Unlike the classic book Animal Farm, it does not end with the animals revolting to establish a more just social order. It ends with Jumbo Jr. becoming comfortable with his newfound acceptance. He becomes comfortable, having elevated his role within his community. The injustice and the kinds of personalities that sustain the injustice remain at the end of the film.
So the message we end up with is less about making the world a better place for all, and more about building confidence in yourself so that you don’t have to be one of the people who suffers. This is what The Man would rather have you believe. They’re saying, you can either be more like the oppressed, or be more like us (or at least be more comfortable within what they deem acceptable).
And that’s what they’re teaching your kids.
From Whence the Babes ‘Ere Come?
There is no sex in the world of Dumbo. Next time your kids tell you that they’d love to live in a world like Disney cartoons, you can say to them, “But then there’d be no sex!” Of course, kids care about this.
The storks seem to have the sole responsibility of providing reproductive services for every species on Earth. It seems that this has been turned into a business by some smart, entrepreneurial storks. It also seems that over time, this service has merged with the telegram business (possibly due to the influence of Western Union on reproductive science).
Most of the storks seem quite efficient (possibly representing professional telegram companies like Western Union), however the stork that delivers Jumbo Jr. does a rather shabby job. We find it hard to believe that a high quality institution would hire him. Therefore it seems more likely that this company’s standards make the experience of having a baby delivered less like getting a telegram from Western Union, and more like getting a Gorrila-gram.
Lesson 1: Don’t drink bubbly yellow water. It’s probably not safe (and laced with acid).
Lesson 2: Buck-toothed, red-headed jerk-kids will get their comeuppance. Bide your time. Eventually they will get trunk spanked.
- Who knew that just west of Winter Quarters was Circus?
- We suspect T-Mo and J. Jr. did LSD. This would explain their shared pink elephants experience better than the consumption of watered down alcohol. We’ve got no idea what meaning is to be found in that segment or what’s supposed to be going on, but seriously it has to be one of the great classics in animated songs.
- After their LSD/alcopop trip, T-Mo and J. Jr. wake up in a tree. We think Disney is inferring they got high.
Rating versus Joe versus the Volcano: Thumbs up.
Rating versus Joe versus the Volcano:
A cautious thumbs up. (Cautious because he has still not seen Joe vs the Volcano).