“Dumbo” was so popular that Time Magazine wanted to feature the lovable little circus star on the cover of its upcoming issue as the “Mammal-of-the-Year.” However, less than two months after the movie’s premiere, the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, prompting the United States to enter World War II. Since the cheerful figure of a flying baby elephant who defied the odds would no longer be appropriate for the cover, it was changed to a portrait of General Douglas MacArthur — a powerful military leader who would embody the spirit of America fighting back.
Time Magazine still included a 1,400-word story on “Dumbo,” a fascinating piece that captures the country’s attitudes at the time. The (uncredited) author explains how in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, Dumbo became a poignant American icon:
“The advent of war made him more than ever a superb expression of the democratic way of life. He could only have happened here. Among all the grim and forboding visages of A.D. 1941, his guileless, homely face is the face of a true man of good will. The most appealing new character of this year of war, he is almost sure to end up in the exclusive kingdom of children’s classics. He may not become a U.S. folk hero, but he is certainly the mammal-of-the-year.”
Through the story of a young elephant who challenges his naysayers, reunites with his mother, and earns fame and fortune in the process, “Dumbo” emerges as a symbol of hope and resilience. Audiences could find solace and inspiration in the sweet, vibrantly-colored film with a simple story that tugs on your heartstrings. “Dumbo” offered a glimmer of optimism during a harrowing time when the world became fraught with conflict and danger.