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Casey Junior’s comin’ down the track….

Casey Junior: Obviously based off the famous railroad engineer. Or perhaps a visionary nod to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles character not created till years later. Take your pick. I think I like my version better.

Either way, Casey Junior pulls the circus train where an expectant mother elephant, Ms. Jumbo, waits for her baby to be delivered by the stork that looks way too much like the Vlassic mascot (which wasn’t introduced till the 1960’s apparently). Mr. Stork makes the delivery only for the elephants to discover that the baby has gigantic ears, even for an elephant. One of the other elephants remarks, “Jumbo? You mean Dumbo!”

Had this movie been made today, that comment would have been followed by an “amirite?”

Internet memes aside, the nickname sticks much to the chagrin of Ms. Jumbo, who, unlike all the other adult elephants, doesn’t seem to know how to talk (perhaps that has more to do with the pseudonym than the ears). After being picked on by a red-headed boy (because we all know that gingers are all Irish and you can’t trust them at all, amirite?) at the circus, Ms. Jumbo has enough and gives the boy a spanking prompting the circus folk to lock her up and Dumbo is an apparent orphan in a heard of elephants that rejects him.

So just as in Pinocchio, the protagonist is befriended by a small creature, Timothy Q. Mouse. What’s with the small sidekicks? Perhaps the message is that the little people are only there to help the bigger ones? #OccupyDisney. 1% of the characters have 99% of the mass!

Timothy decides the best way to get Dumbo some clout is to make him a star. So he tricks the ringmaster into getting Dumbo to springboard onto a pyramid of the other elephants balanced on a ball. Dumbo trips over his ears, tips the pyramid, and subsequently the whole thing topples, destroying the main tent. During that, elephants ended up on the tightrope. Back in the summer of 2005, I was working at the St. Louis Science Center and we had a exhibit about the circus. Aside from learning to juggle (which I managed) and ride a unicycle (which I crashed), we also had the opportunity to do some tightrope walking. It’s surprising just how much tension is in the wire. Standing on it, you couldn’t even feel the sag. I suspect this would change with an elephant somewhat. There’s a physics problem in here somewhere, but I don’t think I can see it right now. More on elephant physics in a bit.

For knocking down the big tent, Dumbo is relegated to clown duty and they force him to jump from a burning building into whip cream. He’s a hit, but miserable. And who wouldn’t be? He’s a clown. And clowns are creepy. Just ask Darth Maul who was apparently based on a nightmare about Bozo the Clown by designer Iain McCraig.

So Timothy takes him to see his mother to cheer him up and afterwards, they accidentally get drunk. After having a trippy dream about pink elephants that always makes me think of heffalumps. Afterwards, they wake up in a tree.

How did they get there?

Obvious answer: Dumbo flew up there. It’s not like he climbed, or used a springboard….

So Timothy gives Dumbo a feather from one of the crows hanging around and tells Dumbo it’s magic. Dumbo gains confidence from it and flies.

The next time he’s forced into the clown gag gig, he flies off instead of landing in the pie filling and is a huge success. But can elephants fly?

At birth, an elephant generally weighs around 110 kg (250 lbs). Whatever lift his ears generate, must be able to balance that weight. But there’s a limit on how much lift force you can generate with a given wing (ear) size. Rhett Allain explores it in his blog and comes up with an equation that gives an approximation. For a baby elephant like Dumbo, the equation gives an area Dumbo would need of around 70 m2 (750 ft2). That’s in the same vicinity of a small apartment. Needless to say, Dumbo’s ears are a little undersized.

But Disney magic happens, Dumbo flies, becomes famous, and gets his own train car. And apparently his fame gets his mother out of solitary and freed. I guess if you’re famous, you can do whatever you want. Misplaced morals indeed.

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