Australian Council on Children and the Media

Dumbo (1941)

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Short takes

Not suitable under 5; parental guidance to 6 (sad/disturbing scenes and themes (separation from parent, emotional cruelty), tobacco and alcohol consumption, and dated stereotypes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Dumbo (1941)
  • a review of Dumbo (1941) completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 26 October 2020.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 5 Not suitable due to sad/disturbing scenes and themes (separation from parent, emotional cruelty), tobacco and alcohol consumption, and dated stereotypes.
Children aged 5–6 Parental guidance recommended due to sad/disturbing scenes and themes (separation from parent, emotional cruelty), tobacco and alcohol consumption, and dated stereotypes.
Children aged 7 and over Ok for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Dumbo (1941)
Classification: G
Consumer advice lines: Contains tobacco depictions
Length 64 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Mrs Jumbo is the happiest circus elephant in the world when a stork delivers her a long-yearned-for little baby elephant, whom she names, Jumbo Junior. The other elephants are in awe with the adorable little bundle of joy – until he sneezes and unfolds a set of enormous ears. The other elephants laugh at him for being a "freak", and from then on call him Dumbo. Mrs Jumbo does not care, however, she loves her little baby just the way he is. Unfortunately, the conceited elephants are not the only ones who ridicule Dumbo for being different, and when children in the crowd harass Dumbo, Mrs Jumbo, wanting to defend her baby and punish the bullies, loses her temper. Declared a dangerous, mad elephant, Mrs Jumbo gets separated from Dumbo and is locked up in a cage, leaving poor Dumbo desperate and all alone. Gladly, Timothy the Mouse (voiced by Edward Brophy) understands how unfair and cruel everyone behaves, excluding Dumbo for being different. He is determined to show Dumbo that his big ears should not stop him from finding success and acceptance. And indeed, it turns out that Dumbo's ears are a blessing rather than a curse, when it ends up that he is the world's only elephant that can fly.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Disney classic; Family musical; Being different; Bullying and discrimination; Fighting injustice and intolerance; Love and friendship.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • Emotional Abuse: The other elephants are very mean and cruel to Dumbo, laughing at him, calling him "freak" and excluding him
  • Children make fun of Dumbo's big ears. His mother gets defensive, snatches the boy, and spanks his backside with her trunk. She is then hit with whips and she throws the Circus Director in a water through. Deemed mad, she is put in chains and locked up in a cage.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • The scene and whole concept of Dumbo's mother getting locked away is extremely sad. The viewer can feel the torment and heartache of Dumbo and his Mum being separated from one another, leaving Dumbo without any protection. In one scene, Dumbo visits his mother and they share a few short moments of love and happiness before he must leave her again – a scene that is absolutely heart-breaking.
  • The ‘Pink Elephant’ scene depicting Dumbo's and Timothy's drunk hallucinations is rather bizarre and trippy, and some children might find the animations confusing and scary.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • The above-mentioned scenes may scare or disturb some children in this age group.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

  • Nothing further of concern.

Product placement

  • None noted.

Sexual references

  • None noted.

Nudity and sexual activity

  • None noted.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • After a successful show, the clown artists have celebratory drinks and end up drunk.
  • The clowns throw a bottle of champagne in a water trough. Unaware, Dumbo and Timothy drink from the trough, and become so drunk they hallucinate. The next day, it is indicated that they cannot remember major parts of the previous day’s events, and they have hangovers.
  • Dumbo and Timothy encounter a flock of crows, and the leader of the gang smokes a cigar.

Coarse language

  • None noted.

In a nutshell

Dumbo is one of the early animated Disney classics, first released in 1941. Its main themes – bullying, discrimination, and excluding someone for being different – are as current as ever. Much of the film has a rather sad notion, and extremely emotionally intense and heart-breaking scenes may be a bit too much for young and/or sensitive viewers, which is why parental guidance for those audiences is recommended. Modern viewers may feel that the movie contains some character depictions – a flock of black crows speaking in a very stereotypical African-American slang – which, according to today's standards, represent racist stereotypes. Parents can use this as an opportunity to raise awareness of how society and the understanding of stereotypes and racial discrimination have changed over the decades.

The main messages from this movie are that being different does not justify discrimination, and that it is important to believe in oneself and celebrate one's uniqueness rather than feeling shameful.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Unconditional love
  • Friendship
  • Making the best of one's situation
  • Courage
  • Resilience
  • Educating others.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • Ignorance and intolerance: Dumbo is excluded and bullied simply for being different, which causes him, and also his mother, extreme grief, hurt, and distress.

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