“I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
These were my exact words when the lights came up at the end of an early screening of Disney’s new live action take on the classic movie DUMBO. I was excited when the lights went down because I thought that it would be an interesting new take on a movie that is dear to me and most Disney fans, I just didn’t dig it though. I love Tim Burton, and love Disney… I have also loved some of the darker toned films they have done lately, but this wasn’t my jam.
I was invited to attend this screening as media. All opinions are my own.
ABOUT THE MOVIE
From Disney and visionary director Tim Burton, the all-new grand live-action adventure DUMBO expands on the beloved classic story where differences are celebrated, family is cherished and dreams take flight. Circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) enlists former star Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) and his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) to care for a newborn elephant whose oversized ears make him a laughingstock in an already struggling circus. But when they discover that Dumbo can fly, the circus makes an incredible comeback, attracting persuasive entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who recruits the peculiar pachyderm for his newest, larger-than-life entertainment venture, Dreamland. Dumbo soars to new heights alongside a charming and spectacular aerial artist, Colette Marchant (Eva Green), until Holt learns that beneath its shiny veneer, Dreamland is full of dark secrets.
I think the obvious first road bump that stood out immediately to me is that there is a lot of parental abandonment in this film. I know that Disney has played the “lost” mother scenario before, but there is definitely a push towards sadness throughout the film. Besides Dumbo’s mother being taken away, the children’s dad leaves the mom and kids behind to fight in the army (not exactly abandonment, but he is gone when needed) and when he returns the mother has passed away. He doesn’t know how to connect with the kids. It was dark.
What went wrong?
The next big hurdle was less obvious and I had trouble putting my finger on but I knew that I didn’t really feel great afterwards due to… something. That “something” and my biggest issue was that you had to accept that Dumbo’s giant ears were such a giant problem for the humans. In the animated version of the film, the other elephants made fun of Dumbo because he was different from them. They were bullies and picked on him plain and simple. In this retelling, it is the people that have a problem with him and the big ears he was born with. Up until they see him, they are more than excited about a cute baby elephant. He arrives and… he is still a cute baby elephant. Absolutely adorable. That being said, this particular circus has a lot of side shows, so I found it odd they would care at all about this elephant having big ears. If it were a traditional, polished up type circus (like the one they are invited to witness later) it might make more sense to have a problem with a blemished act. This circus though? It doesn’t “fly” for me.
It should be noted that there is a definite message of the circus industry being cruel because of animal captivity. Agree or disagree, it is certainly a felt message. It is subtle in some places, but very overt towards the end. The filmmakers were definitely trying to send a message about animals and circuses not going well together. That being said, there were people in the theater who walked out loving it. There are sweet parts with beautiful references to the original, and very funny parts, along with an overall style that makes it a beautiful film… But I don’t think that my kids will see it on the big screen. Small screen in the comfort of our home, certainly. It will be up to you and yours how to proceed in viewing it, though I think it is worth a screening as a family in your preferred format. DUMBO is open in theatres everywhere as of March 29, 2019!