In Dumbo, the first few lines spoken by an off-screen announcer trigger many associations yet seem to be there simply to play a trick on our expectations.
Like later Disney movies that begin with a few lines of voice over narration, Dumbo never resumes this framing narrator during the rest of the film. The delivery of the opening lines works as a gag rather than as a narrative device.
Through the snow
And sleet and hail
Through the blizzard
Through the gale
Through the wind
And through the rain
Over mountain, over plain
Through the blinding lightning flash
And the mighty thunder crash
Ever faithful, ever true
Nothing stops him
He’ll get through!
The words themselves don’t contain any information essential to the story (note that the word “flying” isn’t mentioned at all). But their delivery in the manner of a commercial or trailer sets the tone. Or in other words: it sounds like someone announcing a circus act.
Frame of reference
The circus announcer voice also triggers other associations: the arrival of a superhero, for example. While it’s true that the first Fleischer Superman cartoon premiered only about a month before Dumbo on December 26, 1941 and the 2nd draft of this Dumbo sequence as posted by Hans Perk dates from May 26, 1941 I still believe the connection to Superman’s famous opening lines is no accident.
In fact, the highly influential radio series of the same name premiered on February 4, 1940 with Bud Collyer as Bruce Wayne. The classic announcement was normally delivered by Jackson Beck, as can be heard in this first episode of the original radio series: The Baby from Krypton
Faster than a speeding bullet!
More powerful than a locomotive!
Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound! [different in this first episode]
Look! Up in the sky!
It's a bird!
It's a plane!
There are also the wind sounds in both versions. But in Dumbo right after the last word we hear an airplane motor that evokes the arrival of a daredevil pilot like Geoff Carter (Cary Grant) in Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939) or Jim Lane (Clark Gable) in Test Pilot (Victor Fleming, 1938). The weather conditions here do have a lot in common with those in Only Angels Have Wings where a series of post delivery flights from Barranca over the Andes is perturbed by equally bad weather.
Aircraft themed adventure films were en vogue back then. The famous line “Calling Barranca” even made it into a Tex Avery Warner Bros. cartoon from 24.08.1940 (Ceiling Hero) that parodies the then current airplane craziness. It is available on youtube here.
Although such pop culture references were quite common in short cartoons, Walt Disney was always careful not to let them slip into his features so they wouldn’t feel dated when re-released. Dumbo - being more of an extended cartoon than a “normal” feature film - contains unusually many of them (the quintuplets, the war in Europe, the strike even). It is also Disney's first full-length feature set in the present and in the US.
Plant and Payoff
Images from the 1941 Dumbo trailer
Harvey Deneroff puts it). So it is only consistent that he doesn’t sound like a soaring aircraft until he spreads his ears and starts to fly all by himself.
For a different perspective on Dumbo as a superhero read Harvey Deneroff’s controversial 2009 article.