As a child one of my all-time favorite movies was Dumbo. Of course, the film had its sad parts, but overall it inspired me to follow two concepts. One was never to give up hope and the other to work with whatever challenges life present you. Both served me well as a parent to a special needs son with autism.
So, in 2017 while attending the D23 conference, I was thrilled to learn that Disney had begun working on a Dumbo live action version.
Last week my son and I got a chance to preview the movie and walked away totally charmed. Between its storyline facelift and magnificent CGI effects, Tim Burton’s Dumbo soars captivating audiences of all ages.
The movie set in the post-WW1 United States. The plot revolves around the Farriers, a traveling circus Family. The mom dies in the 1918 flu epidemic, the dad (portrayed by Colin Farrell) is a disabled war veteran, and their two kids Milly and Joe (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins) are trying to cope with the circus lifestyle. The circus owner Max Medici (Danny de Vito) offers the dad the job of elephant wrangling. He is to work with the circus’ newest acquisition Mrs. Jumbo and her offspring.
However, excitement turns to disappointment when the baby pachyderm is born with long, floppy ears. The baby’s appearance triggers bullying from pretty much everyone. The Farrier dad and kids are the only humans kind to it. To make things even worse, Max proceeds to resell the mother but keeps the baby.
While they watch over Dumbo, the Farrier kids discover a secret talent. The elephant can use its ears to fly! When Max learns this, he immediately puts the cute elephant in its own act, and it becomes an overnight sensation.
The incredible act soon attracts the attention of V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) who offers to incorporate Dumbo ‘s act in his amusement park. Of course, nothing is what it seems, and Mr. Vandevere is no exception. His nefarious actions soon turn the Ferrier family and the circus folks against him.
Tim Burton’s Dumbo versus the Animated Dumbo
If I were to sum the movie in a nutshell; then Tim Burton’ s live action version not only expands on the plot but adds much needed socially correct nuances to it.
The 1941 original was almost devoid of human characters and didn’t develop the animal characters much either. The only ones that stood out were Dumbo and Timothy his mouse friend. In contrast, the new one provides the viewers with an array of human circus characters all looking for their place in life and society.
Another difference visible is the elimination of racial stereotypes like singing black crows that in today’s day and age certainly look out of place.
But probably the most glaring difference is the introduction of the amusement park in the story. The park bears at least an uncanny resemblance to Disney parks, which may be a gutsy move on the creators part. I guess it provides a direct continuation of the satirical Princesses appearance in ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet.’
Is it worth seeing?
Famous for his unique style, Director Tim Burton does a remarkable job of reimagining the Disney fable. The saying that kids and animals always steal the show certainly applies here. The CGI Dumbo will steal hearts, and the kid actors hold their own very well next to the well known Farrell, DeVito, Keaton, and Green.
As in all Burton movies, this one too comes fitted with superb visuals. From the sepia circus scenes to the dark Dreamland and fiery ending this is a crowd pleaser for kids and adults.
Talking points for parents to address with kids
True to most Disney movies this one opens the door for parents to discuss pertinent social issues with their kids. The headliner is clearly animal abuse. The workers at the circus mistreat a pregnant Mrs. Jumbo and then heartlessly separate her from her baby. Though in today’s day and age most circus acts do not use any animals it is still important to mention the past and how animals need to be cared for.
In the past decade, the topic of bullying has taken a central role. Dumbo is ridiculed by the circus workers and audience participants because of his giant ears. The owners first want to cut his ears but later just cover them. Making kids of all ages understand that bullying and shaming others because of their appearance is not acceptable should be on every parent’s list.
However, the movie also tackles the topic of self-esteem and the challenges of making the right choice. Dumbo soars once he believes he can fly while Holt and Collette risk everything to unite Mrs. Jumbo with her son.
In the footsteps of other Disney remakes, this one too will become a fan favorite. Though entirely different than the original it still incorporates the traditional concepts the company is famous for- hope, friendship, loyalty, and the importance of family.
Written by Ehren Kruger
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, and Alan Arkin.
Rated PG for peril/action, some mild language.
Tips for parents
- The movie is rated PG so parents should take that into account. It includes no nudity, explicit language or disturbing visuals except for two fire scenes. One is at the circus where the elephant has to perform next to a ring of fire. The second is at Dreamland when the kids get trapped in a room for a short time. Some sensitive kids might find those upsetting.
- Young or more sensitive kids may find some Dreamland, and its owner scenes scary and or might get upset at the scenes of separation Dumbo from his mom.
- If your kid has any sound sensitivities, then you should know that this is not a loud movie except for the few scenes of a chase at the very end.
Disney’s Dumbo is now in theaters.
Disclaimer: Special thanks to Disney Studios for hosting me on the press junket event. My opinions are my own and cannot be influenced in any way