The crows in Dumbo: racist or the best part?

Do we really need to see a new, super-animated version of “The Lion King”? Were parents or even kids clamouring for Disney to update “Aladdin,” “Dumbo” or even “Mary Poppins”?

As a parent with kids in their twenties, that’s a no from me. As an animation buff who reveres the classic cel animation process Disney raised to a 20th century art form, it’s a big no. As somebody who was seven or eight when “Mary Poppins” came out in 1964, it’s Hell No!

CHML’s Rick Zamperin, sitting in Thursday morning for usual host Bill Kelly, invited me on to talk about a news story where Disney was being sued for allegedly stealing the story behind “The Lion King.” This charge dates back to when the original animated feature came out in 1994. The new movie, also called “The Lion King,” just opened in theatres across North America.

Now, if Disney did stick a little too closely to a an earlier, Japanese version of the Simba story, that’s for courts to decide. I’m sure the new movie will make enough millions to spread the love around. Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) directs and Donald Glover, Seth Rogan and John Oliver are among the voices.

The film has been rendered in what Disney is calling a “photorealist remake” according to the studio, and here’s where I object. If it looks like real animals, why animate it at all? Where’s the art in that?

The original was brought to life in a stylish and colourful way, greatly enhanced by a strong and catchy musical score by Elton John and Tim Rice. It even inspired a long-running Broadway version. The 1994 film came out when my daughter was four and son was two — so I’ve seen it eleventy-billion-million times. You could not drag me into the theatre for the new one.


“The Dumbo” remake I did not see because, of all the Disney classics, it is perhaps my favourite. It is the shortest (64 minutes) and it really does fly.

The story goes that Walt Disney was away from the studio the years this film was in production (1940 and ’41), shooting film in South America, ducking labor strife at home, and so wasn’t there to look over the shoulders of the legendary “Nine Old Men” he left in charge. They took full advantage, and rushed through a jazzy little feature that was fun and full of heart.

There is debate that parts of the film are racially insensitive. The black crows are jive-talking rascals clearly modeled after Hollywood stereotypes of African Americans. The lead bird was voiced by a white actor, Cliff Edwards, the voice of Jiminy Cricket in “Pinocchio.” But what of it? A woman, Nancy Cartwright, does the voice of Bart Simpson. Edwards was simply a talented voice actor. He was never really a cricket, either.

Some critics liken the sequence to a minstrel show. The other voices, however, all belong to African American singers, members of the Hall Johnson Choir.

The song they sing, “When I See an Elephant Fly,” is, for me, the highlight of the film (along with the psychodelic “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence). I want my kids to see the original; someday, I hope, they show it to their kids.

The new “Mary Poppins”? Okay, maybe someday I’ll see it, just because the studio was smart enough to bring Dick Van Dyke back for what I understand is a crowd pleasing showcase. I’m in no rush, however. The original blew my mind when I was seven. It was so perfect it made me rise to the ceiling; to this day I still love to laugh.

Do we need to rush out a new version of the Mona Lisa? Time to update her smile? Please.

Me and Rick kick the whole Disney reboot thing around for about ten minutes. You can listen in here.


  1. 2 Disney re-makes are currently the 4th and 5th top-grossing movies of 2019. The only movies ahead are other Disney movies. By the time The Lion King is done it’s theatrical run, there will only be one movie made by any other studio that out-grosses it in the last FIVE YEARS.

    But sure, I bet Disney will stop making them because some geriatric, white, out of work TV “critic” who’s shown he has zero dam clue how business works and is fine with mid-20th century racism doesn’t want them to.

  2. Well, I have played the old VHS tapes for my kids for years and after my daughters watched the new Aladdin, I felt happy hearing them say that the animated movie from the 90s was much better. As for Dumbo, that movie was banned in my house as a child because my brother’s name was Beau and after we watched it once I became the mean older sister who began calling him Dumb-Beau

Write A Comment