Welcome back to our second instalment of the Women of Disney series – you can see our first post of the series here where we looked into the women that were involved in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
After research, we made the decision to skip Pinocchio and Fantasia as there wasn’t anything of note to write so we are now onto the 1941 release of Dumbo! The story of the precious little elephant baby with ears so big that he can fly. Let’s look into the woman that helped Dumbo to soar – but sadly never got the chance to herself.
There are very few Disneys (especially the early creations) that aren’t based from a pre-existing story; whether that’s folklore or fairytales. Dumbo isn’t an exception to this – he is actually from a book called Dumbo by American childrens’ book author, Helen Aberson. It was originally published as a Roll-a-Book which was a popular trend for old books – several illustrations presented on a small scroll in a box. However, it was eventually officially published into a full book.
There have been some alterations to the story, however, such as names. Mrs. Jumbo was actually a sweet elephant called Ella – but she was never locked up like Disney presented. So, thanks a lot, Disney; Baby Mine never needed to exist and break our hearts! Dumbo also wasn’t exiled because of his ears by the other elephants, they actually loved them! It was a much happier tale with other animal characters that never made it to the final cut such as Professor Hoot Owl who taught Dumbo how to use his ears to fly.
The story meant a lot more to Helen, however, as she had written it to showcase discrimination in scoiety. She was the daughter of Jewish immigrants who moved from Russia to America and they had their share of adversity in this time.
Dumbo has been re-released by Disney in a live-action adaptation of the story directed by Tim Burton and it made over £38 million in the box office. However, Helen didn’t receive that much financial recognition for the story as she was only paid $1000 for the rights by the publishers who bought it from her and sold it on to Disney. When the original film was released and reached success, she tried to negotiate more money but was denied. Her family since have revealed that she never recovered from it. Her son said, “It was her baby, but it really wasn’t her baby any more. She never believed she got her just dues in terms of the way things played out.”
Despite multiple attempts to regain copyright or royalties of the story, Disney fought against every attempt and stated that the family didn’t own anything. However proud Helen may have been whenever she saw Dumbo on the screen or being sold as merchandise or even rides at Disneyland, she was always filled with bittersweet feelings towards it being taken from her.
We’ll see you next time for the next instalment of Women of Disney.