3 Stars – Wholesome
For such a strange name, Dumbo is one of the most recognized characters in American cultural history. The story of Dumbo the flying elephant was first published in 1939 and purchased by the Disney Studios in 1941. Within a few years, Disney’s animated tale of the young elephant who wowed the Circus into which he was born became a classic tale from the house of Mickey Mouse. The Dumbo ride was one of the original attractions at the newly opened Disneyland in 1955 in California and is still there today.
Disney’s new version is directed by the brilliant Tim Burton who put his trademark razzle dazzle into it. Dumbo is still born into the circus based in Florida in 1919. Like the original, he is separated from his mother Ella and longs to be back in her loving care. The head of the circus troupe, Max Medici (Danny DiVito) is a cross between a hard-driving businessman and a soft- hearted child. Baby Jumbo, renamed “Dumbo”, is put in the care of returning World War I veteran and former circus star Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) with his two children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). Holt, who lost an arm during the war, returned from battle to also find that his wife had died, leaving him to provide care and support for his children. Between the three of them, they not only become deeply bonded, but they also become the saving grace for baby Dumbo.
Unlike the original story where Dumbo becomes a beloved star and heads off to Hollywood, this story takes a darker turn common to the other films directed by Burton. As such, this version could be a little scary to young children. Nevertheless, all’s well that ends well, and Dumbo is still beloved at the conclusion of the story.
The dark turn is that the star-studded attraction of the flying elephant catches the attention of impresario V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) who has built a new circus empire with a theme park – a sort of Disneyland with a decidedly dark veneer. Vandevere makes a deal with circus- owner Max Medici to merge their enterprises and become big-time show business. Needless to say, Vandevere’s greed cripples the undertaking.
Without giving away the whole story, greed does not succeed. Dumbo is still beloved and he is reunited with his mother. Along the way, Holt Farrier finds a renewed strength in family with an emerging love interest, and the circus is saved by the curmudgeonly Max Medici as they return to their humble roots.
Throughout the story, we witness the continued innocence of Dumbo and the children that know him best, contrasted against the ever-present greed and avarice of the adults who see everyone as a means to their own ends. Following the best course of any morality tale is the fact that evil cannot overcome the innocence and power of love, whether it is in business, personal relationships, or the way we treat animals and children. For older children on up to
those with child-like hearts, this story is a good reminder of what the best of our intentions can be. It will let you leave the theater with a smile on your face.
The fact that Dumbo’s big ears were a cause for ridicule shows that often an asset can be seen by others as a deficit. How has this been true in your own life or the life of those you love?
Exploring the nature of greed that is willing to harm others, Burton’s Dumbo is a morality tale for a materialistic nation. Do you think the message will be received?
The fact that life’s journey is often interrupted by such tragedies as war, death, greed and evil requires that each of us find our own unique path to happiness and love. How has your unique journey helped or hurt you and your loved ones?