Thesis Dumbo Disney Movie Analysis

This sample paper on Thesis Dumbo offers a framework of relevant facts based on the recent research in the field. Read the introductory part, body and conclusion of the paper below.

Introduction: When thinking of films that portray disability Disney animated films generally are not the first titles that people think of. When thinking of Disney movies most people think of princesses, villains, magical places, and happily ever after, but there is another side to Disney that is not so clear and upfront, the side of disabilities, stereotyping and ultimately overcoming diversity.

One of the earliest Disney movies portraying disabilities is Dumbo (Sharpsteen, 1941).

The movie was released in 1941 when the world was going through World War II, society was looking for an escape and Disney provided just that. In the 1940s people with disabilities were considered freaks, abnormal, and not equal to the rest of society, in most cases they were ridiculed, judged and placed in asylums. It is ignorance, fear and stigma that drives society to ridicule a race, gender, disability or anything that seems to be different then what mainstream society considers normal.

An Elephant That Can Fly:

Dumbo tells the story of a baby elephant that is born different then all the other elephants (Sharpsteen, 1941). With very large ears, he is ridiculed, and is considered an outcast by the rest of the circus elephants. One day his mother stands up for Dumbo when a boy in the crowd starts calling Dumbo names, ultimately leaving him alone because the circus locks his mother away feeling that she is a danger to the gusts and circus animals and performers.

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Dumbo is left alone, with no support with the feeling of being subpar due to not being like everyone else.

What Is Dumbo About

With the elephants not letting up on their ridicule and segregating Dumbo from the rest of the herd, Timothy the mouse comes in and befriends the little elephant. With Timothy becoming Dumbo’s friend and leading him to realize that he does not have to be like everyone else, Dumbo learns to fly and becomes accepted by everyone. Fear of Disabilities versus Normal: The fear of becoming disabled is something that seems to be inherent among the majority of able-bodied people (Morris, 1991). This fear stems from ignorance and misunderstanding about what is “normal”.

The better part of the twentieth century society was not sympathetic or in anyway understanding when it came to disabilities; Dumbo’s treatment among his circus peers was no different (Morris, 1991). One of the elephants actually pulls on little Jumbo Jr. ’s ear shortly after the stork had delivered him to his mother. The elephant is making sure that all the others can see what is wrong with the baby, that he is not normal. Another one of the on looking elephants says, “Just look at those E-A-R-S” (Sharpsteen, 1941) again making sure that everyone is aware of the little one’s problem area.

The elephants start to comment on how silly his ears look, laugh about them, and nickname the baby elephant Dumbo, instead of Jumbo Jr. If it is society that determines what is disabling or not, it is clear that the circus society which Dumbo comes to considers him to be “different” and disabled (Norden, 1994). Disabilities, History and Societal Outlook: In the early twentieth century people with disabilities often had little to no choice but to go work for the circus, be put in asylums and institutions all because of society’s view of their differences (Raymond, 2008).

In most cases people with disabilities were kept away from “normal” people, or the majority of society. Many people, especially those from a strict religious backgrounds, believed that if a person was disabled either they or their parent had done something to incur the wrath of God, which was the cause of the disability (Ingstad, 1995). The majority of the general public was not interested in allowing persons with disabilities to integrate into society.

So much misunderstanding and fear surrounded disabilities that many countries had policies of sterilization for those individuals deemed to have genetic disabilities that could be passed on to their children; essentially people of the 1930s and 40s were trying to eradicate disabilities in any way possible (Ingstad, 1995). In the movie Dumbo the baby elephant portrayed disabilities in a way that garnered some amount of sympathy that was never seen before. This sympathy changed the way that disabilities could be seen or thought of by society.

Disney made the baby elephant with big ears the innocent victim, something different for a character with disabilities at the time. People started looking past Dumbo’s disability and watched an outcast struggling to fit in to the circus world where he was supposed to be apart of. Once Dumbo’s ears make their appearance the little elephant is essentially shunned by the circus society. Dumbo’s only friends are his Mother, a mouse, and a group of crows. His only connection back to the circus is his mother and when she is taken away the little elephant is literally left alone to fend for himself.

Perception of One Self due to Society: Dumbo’s loneliness teaches him indirectly that his ears are the root of his problems. He learns that his disability is something to be ashamed of. Although not every person with a disability experiences shame tied to their difference, general society convey the message that disability is shameful. Disability scholar and advocate, Jenny Morris (1991) explains the effect of this misrepresentation as a part of society’s general oppression of person’s with disabilities.

She states: The way that the general culture either ignores of misrepresents our experience is part of our oppression. However, mainstream culture is also the poorer for this. Surely, the representation and exploration of human experience is incomplete as long as disability is either missing from or misrepresented in all the forms that cultural representation takes. (p. 85) Dumbo’s shame perhaps relevant for some with disabilities in many cases simply a misrepresentation and more likely tied to a more common shame that everyone feels growing up.

Considering that most people grow up not liking something about them selves or had some part of their bodies ridiculed by others, Dumbo’s shame about his ears seems less tied to his actual disability and more tied to his opinion of self. Even when told by Timothy the Mouse (his friend) that his ears are beautiful, Dumbo hides behind them. Dumbo does not trust anyone not to make fun of him or his ears, something that has been systematically taught to him throughout his short young life. One Friend Looking Past Disability can make the Difference:

Timothy feels sorry for Dumbo when he sees the other elephants picking on the “little guy” and wants to help him, “Lots of people with big ears are famous… ” Timothy tells Dumbo in order to make him feel more comfortable with his ears, but then struggles to come up with any examples (Sharpsteen, 1941). The idea to overcome the disability in order to be accepted by circus society introduces a new stereotype, the supercrip. “Supercrips are people who overcoming the challenges of disability and becoming more ‘normal,’ in a heroic way” (Martin, 2009).

To help this idea along, Timothy decides that the only way to help Dumbo fit in at the circus and be reunited with his mother is for Dumbo to become the headliner of an act involving all the other elephants. Unfortunately the failure of this first attempt only makes matters worse, because Dumbo is reduced to a clown after he causes the big top to fall. Dumbo’s ears, his disability, once again become the thing that is seemingly holding him back from success, acceptance and his mother; a “normal” life. By being demoted to a clown it seems that the expectations for Dumbo overcoming his disability are nonexistent.

This feeling of failure and hopelessness is reiterated to the crows in a speech made by Timothy: Why I ask ya why… just because he’s got those big ears, they call him a freak, the laughing stock of the circus. Then when his mother tried to protect him they throw her into the clink and on top of that they made him a clown… socially he’s washed up. (Sharpsteen, 1941) Without knowing how to overcome his disability, Dumbo seems doomed to go through life at the circus as a clown and a side show “freak”. However, finding themselves in a tree forces Timothy to try to sort out how it could have happened.

While Timothy tries to figure it out, one of the crows mockingly yells, “Maybe ya flew up? ”(Sharpsteen, 1941). As ridiculous as this idea seems to the crows Timothy believes it, and sees flying as the answer to all of Dumbo’s problems. “Dumbo you flew… your ears are perfect wings… the very things that held you down are going to carry you up and up and up… ”(Sharpsteen, 1941). The crows, however, make a good point, a point that could hinder Dumbo’s ability to overcome his big ears “have you ever seen an elephant fly? ” This point does not deter Timothy and the crows acknowledge his determination.

The crows are the one’s that give Dumbo the “Magic Feather” that will help him fly and lead to his ultimate fame and success. The “Magic Feather,” given to Dumbo by the crows, is ultimately a tool to help Dumbo believe in himself, and when lost in midair would have caused even more humiliation for the little elephant if he had not decided that he did not need it to fly. There are two important things to take away from this method of overcoming a disability. First, in order to overcome a disability it must be that person’s decision.

The decision or the action of overcoming a disability is not something that can be forced on someone or expected of them; force and expectations can lead to the supercrip stereotype becoming problematic. The supercrip stereotype “focuses on a single individual’s ability to overcome, then puts onus on other disabled people to do the same” (Martin, 2009). Second, the responsibility or belief that all disabled people can overcome their disability to be “normal” is not realistic or rational for society to place on a person that has a disability.

By placing the view that people can overcome a disability again puts “normal” as superior to anything less then that. Conclusion: Dumbo is looked at as the amazing flying elephant at the end of the movie, but in reality Dumbo is no different at the end of the movie then what he was in the beginning (Sharpsteen, 1941). The only thing that changed was the circus societies view that Dumbo was now not a “freak” but instead extraordinary. It took a little elephant to find a use for his disability and belief in himself to become someone that everyone would except, unfortunately real society is very similar.


Instead of looking at people with disabilities as equals whether they do extraordinary acts or not, society looks down on peoples differences creating standards that people must live up to, to be considered a part of excepted society. Today people with disabilities are not forced into asylums, or left to join the circus sideshow but it is far from ideal. There is much more awareness regarding disabilities today compared to just ten years ago, but there is still a long way to go.

For Society to become less judgmental society needs to become proactive in understanding what disability is, and stop placing stigma and assumptions on the disabled person. Once all of society is accepted as equal whether they are the same or different then everyone, society is truly not going to become an inclusive, thriving, equal opportunity world for everyone living within it. By not becoming aware of the importance of differences, society will miss out on opportunities to become a richer culture, gaining valuable insight and opportunities that people with disabilities have to offer us all.

With knowledge, awareness, understanding, and acceptance there is less likely that people that are different will be colonized, segregated, or oppressed, that in itself is the most important reason for society to understand and learn from the mistakes from the past on the treatment and view of people with disabilities. References Ingstad, B. (1995). Mpho ya modimo—A gift from God: Perspectives on “attitudes” toward disabled persons. In B. Ingstad & S. R. Whyte (Eds. ), Disability and Culture (pp. 246-265). Berkley, CA: University of California Press. Martin, R. (2009). Global Comment.

No One wants to Play “Super Chip”. Retrieved March 16, 2013 from: http://globalcomment. com/no-one-wants-to-play-super-crip/ Morris, J. (1991). Pride against Prejudice: Transforming Attitudes on Disability. London: The Women’s Press Ltd. Norden, M. F. (1994). The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Raymond, E. B. (2008). Learners with Mild Disabilities: A Characteristics Approach. Boston: Pearson Press. Sharpsteen, B. (Director). (1941). Dumbo [Motion picture]. United States: Walt Disney Productions.

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Thesis Dumbo Disney Movie Analysis. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Thesis Dumbo Disney Movie Analysis
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