It would be easy to make a list merely counting down the best Disney mothers of all time but when the #1 Mom is so obvious, it’s best not to lazily go through the motions and simply give Mrs. Jumbo her just desserts. That’s not to say there haven’t been other notable Disney moms – Bambi’s famously dies, Peter Pan is down-low all about mothers, Tarzan’s adoptive mom, Kala, would probably be #2 had we actually made the aforementioned list and we even have a few villainous step-mothers in Snow White’s Wicked Queen and Cinderella’s Lady Tremaine. But none of them really matter when you consider the rather large shadow Mrs. Jumbo casts over these and the entire Disney lot of moms.
Dumbo is such a well-done and classic story that it can be many things to many people. To some, it’s a tale of overcoming one’s weakness and believing in yourself. To others, it plays like a good old fashioned buddy comedy where Timothy and Dumbo get jobs, get drunk and get rich and famous while doing it. At least one person even sees it as an opportunity to discuss race. But, at its core and in its heart, Dumbo is a story about that special bond and unconditional love that occurs between a single* elephant cow and her only calf.
*Is Mrs. Jumbo single??? She does carry the title of “Mrs.” so we can assume she was at least married at one point. Is she widowed, separated, or estranged from her husband? Is he just off working at another circus? Was Mrs. Jumbo captured from the wild and sold into the circus and, thus, ripped away from her husband? Or…maybe elephants don’t have last names at all and “Mrs.” is just added to her first name as a formality or sign of respect. This might make more sense since she named Dumbo “Jumbo Jr.” At any rate and for all intents and purposes, we will treat Mrs. Jumbo as a single mother going forward. Please and thank you.
When we first meet Mrs. Jumbo she is a lonely elephant, riding the midnight circus train out of Florida and up the eastern seaboard. She then suffers the traumatic experience of watching Mr. Stork deliver babies to all the various animals aboard the train only to leave her waiting, wanting and ultimately empty-trunked. Much like Gepetto before her, Mrs. Jumbo forlornly gazes towards the night sky and silently wishes for a baby elephant to call her own. That next morning, she gets her wish as Mr. Stork delivers her a baby boy that she names “Jumbo Jr” aka Dumbo (her only spoken line of the movie!)
Mrs. Jumbo proves to be a natural as her and Dumbo spend their days playing and cuddling – their bond is immediate and strong. However, once Dumbo’s large, floppy ears are discovered by a group of punk kids, they cruelly tease and bully the baby elephant which leads Mrs. Jumbo to defend her son by spanking one of the boys (who ironically has ears just as big as Dumbo’s) and then throws a rage filled tantrum as the circus hands try to calm her down. Assumed to have gone crazy, she’s separated from Dumbo and locked up in the “Mad Elephant Cage.” It’s a devastating sequence that leaves poor Dumbo alone and prone to episodes of silent, teary sobbing. Although, this does lead to one of the sweetest and most heart-wrenching scenes in Disney cinema when Timothy leads an excited Dumbo to his mother’s cage where she reaches out from the barred window to tenderly cradle Dumbo with her trunk, rocking him back-and-forth to the song “Baby Mine.”
What really puts a bow on this tale and their mother-son relationship though is when Dumbo finally reaches those lofty heights of fame and fortune and does what most now successful sons do who had a tough upbringing and were raised by a single mother: they buy mama a house (of course!). Or, in this case, mom gets a fancy streamlined train car with an open-aired balcony. Mrs. Jumbo is now living in the lap of luxury thanks to her son and the movie closes with Dumbo and his mom engaged in a warm, trunk nuzzling embrace in the back of the train. In the end, it wasn’t about flying and all the success and money that came with it… those were just the means by which Dumbo was able to free and reunite with Mrs. Jumbo because when all you have is your mom, that’s all you will ever need.