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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dumbo deaf?

Look at that cute little elephant face! Disney rocks - I grew up on a diet of both Looney Tunes cartoons, Disney features, and lived a scant few hours away from Disneyland and Disney's animation studios. There are a number of modern movies that I like, such as Monsters Inc and The Incredibles - but they're all so shiny, so lustrous, that it's almost as if the magic just isn't there. Or, maybe I'm just getting a case of "back in the day..." ;-)

I guess I never really paid complete attention to movies when I was a kid, so I grabbed the chance to experience Dumbo with all my senses last night. What surprised and shocked me was, not how great the animation holds up, but how times have definitely changed since this movie was made in the 1940's.

There were definitely tones of racism - black laborers were depicted as underpaid and slaving away with the elephants in setting up the big-top tents. The crows that later befriend Dumbo in the movie are jive-talkin' in the manner stereotypical of southern blacks. The mouse in Dumbo's hat was a tough talkin' Italian scrapper. But the biggest item of all was an eye opener for me and Kel - was seeing just how one could interpret Dumbo as acting like a deaf/mute.

Dumbo's ears were the cause of his ridicule, his shunning from the proud elephant group. He had ears "only a mother could love." Dumbo never spoke a word the entire movie - he only expressed things through his face and through his trunk, depicting (to me) sign language. When he got a job with the clowns, his face was not of a clown, but of a mime (his face was very plain, while the clowns were very expressive).

Now, clearly, Dumbo could hear - there are plenty of instances where others spoke into those big ears of his. But the alliteration, to me, was that his ears were essentially "broken" and he was isolated except for his mother and his one friend because of them. To me, it appears that the movie didn't hold back - doing these kind of things, the racism and drawing out of stereotypes - would be very noticable in this day and age. And as kids we didn't even notice them as negative things!

So, is the movie "Dumbo" racist, audist, or oppressive? I think it warrants looking into further.

As a side note, the movie had some whacked out stuff going on. Ever seen the pink elephants scene? Someone must've been off their rocker for that! I found a short list of other Disney movies that were pretty, well.... psychedelic..

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