When I was a kid, this film never registered for me (because circuses and clowns are not at all entertaining), but as an adult with an adopted autistic child, I've come to appreciate it as the best of the emotionally-terrifying classic Disney films. Instead of killing the mother off before the first song, this film explains the miracle of birth with storks delivering "surprise" no-fuss-no-muss babies to expectant mothers, ensuring that all babies are (essentially) adopted. In Mrs. Jumbo's case, she wants a kid so badly that even though hers turns out to be a "freak," she loves him so much that she goes to elephant jail for protecting him against bullies. Not dead, but offside and waiting and no sign of Mr. Jumbo; a Disney rarity. Of course, it's the savvy rodent who helps Dumbo achieve self worth, but being by his mother's side is the grand prize. Is there anyone who can watch the lullaby scene without weeping? A great story.
And clowns suck.
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Filmed with the real Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus, The Greatest Show on Earth is the story of the trials and tribulations of the performers and managers of a traveling show. A lot of it is reaction shots of people laughing at animals being tortured and humiliated, tolerating clowns as they smack each other with shticks, and shrieking in bloodthirsty terror as the two death-defying aerialists (Hutton and the lovely Cornel Wilde) vie for center ring. And let's not forget "Buttons" the beloved clown who never takes off his makeup (it's Jimmy Stewart and it turns out he's wanted for murder; imagine that) or the hot elephant jockey (Gloria Grahame) who is tormented by the jealous Nazi elephant trainer.
Lots of dangerous things happen ("Sebastian, no! Don't try it without the net!") until Betty Hutton realizes that road manager (or whatever he is) Charlton Heston is really the guy for her after all. But it takes two and half hours to get there.
Can't believe this won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1952. For my taste there's too much circus and not enough Gloria Grahame. It might be fun to make a brand new picture out of all the audience shots interspersed with a shirtless Cornel Wilde (before he tried it without the net) and Grahame in that gorgeous emerald-green Edith Head dress. Hmmm...maybe I should gas up Final Cut Pro.
Did I mention clowns suck? Sneaky, murdering bastards.