Dumbo is the story about an elephant that has huge, floppy ears. Quickly, Dumbo becomes an outcast among the other elephants and is left to feel ashamed about his ears. He befriends a mouse, Timothy, who encourages him throughout the film. Dumbo and Timothy discover that Dumbo’s ears allow him to fly and soon Dumbo becomes famous as he is the only elephant in the world who can fly.
Dumbo is a unique case where the negative message is implied, and the positive message is overt. The negative message is that being different is bad and gives the impression that people should be ashamed of their flaws. It is no surprise that Dumbo has abnormally large ears — these ears are the source of his grief and humiliation throughout a majority of the film. Mrs. Jumbo, Dumbo’s mother, receives Dumbo from a stork and names him Jumbo Jr.. She loves her son dearly, but almost immediately after discovering that he has giant ears, the other elephants rename him as Dumbo.
The positive message in Dumbo is that you need to believe in yourself. When Timothy, Dumbo’s mouse friend, and Dumbo figure out that Dumbo can fly, Dumbo is extremely hesitant. With the help of some crows, Timothy is able to convince Dumbo that he actually can fly. They give Dumbo a ‘magic feather’ to help him believe in himself; because of this, Dumbo is under the impression that the feather impacts his ability to fly. Once the other elephants disown Dumbo, he is obligated to become a clown and to be a part of the clown’s circus act. In this act, Dumbo is forced to jump off of a platform onto a ‘trampoline’ the clowns are holding down below. Unbeknownst to Dumbo, the ‘trampoline’ is rigged to break so Dumbo will fall through into a pool of whipped cream. This is extremely humiliating to Dumbo, but the clowns find this funny. The clowns decided to raise the platform from which Dumbo must jump, and Timothy empowers Dumbo but convincing him to jump and fly instead of fall into the pool of cream. While on the platform, Dumbo has the feather in his trunk, but after he jumps he loses grip of the feather and it flies away. Timothy beings shouting at Dumbo to fly, saying that the feather does not actually help him fly and that he can fly on his own. Dumbo finally believes in himself and he begins to fly and soar around the circus tent. Dumbo learns that his ears, his previous source of embarrassment, make him special, unique, and give him the ability to fly. Once Dumbo believed in himself, he was able to use his ‘flaw’ to accomplish great things, becoming the world’s only flying elephant.
I think that the negative message is the more powerful of the two. A majority of the film revolves around ostracizing Dumbo and making him feel ashamed about the size of his ears; only the last 5-10 minutes of the movies involve Dumbo learning how to fly. Watching the film now, I had a difficult time discerning the positive message; if I had a difficult time with this, younger children also will as well. I think it’s unfortunate that the negative message is the stronger of two messages because children are especially susceptible to believing what they are told about themselves. It is important to begin empowering children from a young age because they pay attention to everything you say and internalize it. I think that if you are going to make a movie with an implied negative message, you also need a really strong positive message to balance out the negative one and Dumbo simply lacked that.