The stork delivers babies to the circus animals, including Mrs. Jumbo’s baby, an elephant with enormous ears. The other elephants laugh at him and call him Dumbo, but Mrs. Jumbo loves him very much. When Dumbo is mistreated, she is furious and raises such a fuss that she is locked up. Dumbo is made part of the clown act, which embarasses him very much. He is a big hit and, celebrating his good fortune, accidentally drinks champagne and becomes tipsy. The next morning, he wakes up in a tree, with no idea how he got there. It turns out that he flew! He becomes the star of the circus, with his proud mother beside him.
The themes in this movie include tolerance of differences and the importance of believing in yourself. It also provides a good opportunity to encourage empathy by asking kids how they would feel if everyone laughed at them the way the animals laugh at Dumbo, and how important it is to Dumbo to have a friend like Timothy.
Parents should note that while respecting individual differences is a theme of the movie, the crows who sing “When I See an Elephant Fly” would be considered racist by today’s standards. One of them is named “Jim Crow” and they speak with “Amos ‘n Andy”-style accents, but clearly they are not intended to be insulting. Families who see this movie should talk about that depiction, as well as these questions: Why does Timothy tell Dumbo he needs the feather to fly? How does he learn that he does not need it? Why do the other elephants laugh at Dumbo’s ears? How does that make him feel? Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy some stories with related themes. The circus train, Casey, Jr., puffs “I think I can” as it goes up the hill, just like “The Little Engine That Could.” Compare this story to “How the Elephant Got Its Trunk,” by Rudyard Kipling (read by Jack Nicholson in the wonderful Rabbit Ears production), in which another elephant finds his larger-than expected feature first ridiculed and then envied by the other elephants. Kids may also enjoy comparing this to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “The Ugly Duckling,” and other stories about differences that make characters special.