Dumbo the Flying Elephant has been one of the most popular rides in Disney history, tracing its roots all the way back to the 1941 animated feature Dumbo. Like the movie, this spinner is simple, short, and delightful. Today we will explore how this little movie and its little elephant became the stars of the show, and the parks.
The animated film Dumbo was the fourth animated feature film from Walt Disney Studios. It came on the heels of two underperforming box office features, Pinnochio and Fantasia. Needing to be very financially conservative, Dumbo was purposely designed to have simple backgrounds and a short running time. In fact, at only 64 minutes, Disney’s distributor wanted the film to be lengthened, cut down to a short feature, or be released as a B movie. Walt refused all three options and insisted the movie be released as is. The studio reluctantly agreed and the film went on to be a box office success.
What made the movie was the adorable elephant and the focus put on character animation. The hand-drawn animation is still considered some of the best in animated film history. While Dumbo himself doesn’t have any speaking lines in the entire movie, his bright blue eyes and big gray ears made him charming to audiences from the start. So, when it came time for Disneyland to open in 1955, it was an easy decision to include the cute little elephant.
“10 Pink Elephants on Parade” was the original concept for the Dumbo ride. The hub and spoke design featured 9 pink elephants and 1 Dumbo, based off of a sequence in the movie. If you have seen the film, you know this scene comes after Dumbo unknowingly drinks from a barrel of water spiked with a bottle of spirits. Walt decided he didn’t want his guests associating their ride with an alcohol-induced hallucination and all 10 ride vehicles were painted gray at his instruction. With that small hiccup resolved, the ride was opened and the rest, as they say, is history.
With the ride proving just as popular as the movie, it was once again an easy decision to bring Dumbo to the Magic Kindgom in 1971. While there were a couple of minor differences between the two versions, the overall ride was the same. Dumbo the Flying Elephant would sit at the heart of Fantasyland unchanged until 1993. At that point, 6 more ride vehicles were added and the ride mechanism updated. Despite being removed from the original movie by 50 years, the ride remained popular and visitors continued to wait in long lines. In 1997, the ride’s queue was covered to provide some shade from the hot Florida sun and make the long wait more bearable.
Plans for a New Fantasyland meant an opportunity to expand Dumbo the Flying Elephant and provide an even better experience for its loyal riders. To begin, the ride was moved from its historic location behind Cinderella’s Castle to a new spot where Mickey’s Toontown Fair once resided. This entire area was updated to a Big Top theme and renamed Storybook Circus. Dumbo’s popularity justified a whole subset of Fantasyland themed after the movie. Today, you can shop or grab a yummy snack at Big Top Souvenirs, watch Goofy and Donald perform at Pete’s Silly Side Show, ride The Barnstormer, let the kids get wet at Casey Jr. Splash ’N’ Soak Station, hop aboard the Walt Disney World Railroad, and of course take flight at Dumbo the Flying Elephant. This new area provides a circus of fun for little visitors.
The main attraction at Storybook Circus is still Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and for good reason. When the original ride was relocated in 2012, it gained a sister spinner, got a fabulous update, and added the most interactive queue in all of Walt Disney World!
With the ride still attracting such long lines, the decision was made to literally double the ride capacity by adding a second carousel. Both spinners feature a new state of the art water fountain, a red, gold and blue color scheme, and a lively soundtrack. The water feature is a call back to the original ride in Disneyland, which has always featured a fountain under the ride vehicles. This had been impossible in the original Magic Kingdom location due to the utilidors running under the ride. The new placement in Storybook Circus allowed the imagineers to not only bring this fun element to the Magic Kingdom version, but also allowed them to add a high tech color changing light show in the fountain. Don’t worry about getting wet on Dumbo though. The fountain and light show run under the ride vehicles and are there for pure decoration. The colorful water is very beautiful and makes riding at night even more exciting!
This fun light show also makes the ride great for observers. Anyone in your party that wants to sit this one out can grab a seat on a nearby bench and be mesmerized by the colorful movement. If they are paying attention, they will notice that the two carousels spin in opposite directions. Like all other Dumbo rides throughout the Disney parks, the Dumbo on the right spins counter-clockwise. However, the Dumbo on the left is unique in that it spins clockwise. This allows the two spinners to face riders out into Storybook Circus from the same direction. If the observers in your party are familiar with the old version of the ride, they may notice the one thing missing from the new Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Yes, Timothy Q. Mouse is no longer high atop the center of the attraction overlooking riders. Don’t worry though, you can still find him on the sign at the entrance.
Speaking of the entrance, welcome to the 9th Wonder of the World when it comes to ride queues! What was once nothing more than a long hot wait on the blistering pavement, is now a cool air conditioned circus playground under the Big Top. For riders not utilizing Fastpass +, the wait to ride Dumbo the Flying Elephant takes place in a giant indoor tent. Riders are given a pager to notify them when their time to ride has come. Until then, children are free to explore all the fun things this circus has to offer. Dumbo himself is flying over the different areas of the tent as kids play. Each area is divided up into specific age groups. 2-3 year olds can enjoy the toddler play area in the center ring, while 4-8 year olds have a labyrinth of nets to climb through and slides to race down. There are enough colorful sights and sounds in this area to keep kids entertained even during the longest waits of the day. However, even with two carousels running, the waits for Dumbo the Flying Elephant can reach an hour or more during peak crowds. If your group consists of toddlers, a Fastpass + isn’t a bad idea, as they will likely want to do Dumbo more than once.
So, there you have it. After more than 40 years at the Magic Kingdom, the little ride that said, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”, can now proudly say “I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could.” Dumbo the Flying Elephant has grown from a tribute of the animated movie into a ride that is a star in its own right. I wonder how many of today’s kids have seen the movie before experiencing the ride? It seems to matter not. Just put them in Dumbo and let them take control of moving the flying elephant up and down as they go round and round and they are sure to have fun.
As for me, I have seen the movie and I have been on both the old and new version of Dumbo the Flying Elephant. I can’t say I remember much from those early flights as a child, and I did let a good number of years go by without revisiting the classic ride. However, on my trip last year I wanted to check out the new queue and updated ride. Rachel and I went without any kids and without a Fastpass +. We took our time seeing what the new play area had to offer before climbing aboard our Dumbo. While two full grown adults can fit side by side in a Dumbo vehicle, it would be more comfortable for one Jumbo and one Jumbo Jr. Once in the air, there is so much to take in as Storybook Circus swirls past you. Moving the control stick to lift Dumbo all the way up allows a good view of the activity surrounding you. Just like Astro Orbiter, I found the simple joy of flying through the air to be a lot of fun. When the minute and a half ride was over, it was as clear to me as the water in the fountain below below why Dumbo the Flying Elephant is as popular as ever. The special little elephant takes riders on a vibrant, yet peaceful journey. If you are grown up like me and haven’t been on this ride in years, I encourage you to take a break from the high thrills and enjoy a simple, fun ride next time you are in Walt Disney World. If for no other reason then to say “I’ve seen an elephant fly!”
That will wrap up our time together today. I want to say a special thanks to our friends over at Dad’s Guide to WDW for featuring this week’s podcast in their July issue of the WDW Magazine. If you haven’t checked out this wonderful publication, go do so as soon as the podcast is over. You can preview and buy the monthly editions at wdw-magazine.com. Each issue is full of beautiful pictures, great articles, and the latest news about what’s happening at Walt Disney World. Also, be sure to check out dadsguidetowdw.com for a wealth of information about the most magical place on Earth. Thanks Dad’s Guide!
Speaking of guides, don’t forget to click the Smart Guide & Gallery below to see pictures for Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Thanks for joining us today! Have a great week and go make each day a ride worth taking.