This weekend I took my kids to see the new live action movie “Dumbo.” While the original 1941 classic has never made my top ten movie list, I’ve always loved the character. The first time I went to Disneyland in 1988, the Dumbo ride was my favourite, so my parents bought me a Dumbo ornament which I have to this day. I’m not going to lie… judging from the commercials I was convinced I would ugly cry the whole way through the movie. The good news is that I was able to keep myself together, and I did not embarrass my children. There are always mixed reviews when it comes to Disney movies. Here’s my take on it (mild spoilers).
First of all, I would suggest going into it with an open mind. Depending on your personality, you either welcome freedom of interpretation or you are a traditionalist who prefers that the story is told as close to the original as possible. I’m the first. Unless it comes to cranberry sauce… I don’t like anything but the original (tangent). I love all of the Live Action Disney movies. Every single one of them. I love how they take a classic story and add and embellish to give more depth and insight into the characters that we have grown to love. It’s always tricky when you are doing a movie with animals. They have to look realistic, not cheesy. I think they did a masterful job of bringing Dumbo to life. He was even more adorable than I could have imagined. Those ears and eyes so big that they draw you in and capture your heart. It was love at first sight.
One of the smartest things they did for this movie was to introduce protagonists that you immediately feel connected to. In the cartoon there were mainly animals and the humans took the background. For the live action it was the humans that carried the story. The movie follows a family who work in a circus that has fallen on hard times; both in their personal family and the greater circus family. I was really drawn into their plight. The two kids were Milly and Joe Farrier, born and raised in the circus. Their father Holt (Colin Farrell) comes back from the war to find the circus in disrepair. Holt left the circus a star and returns a disheartened war vet. Upon his return he finds his show horses have been sold to help keep the circus afloat. Desperate for work, he takes a job caring for and training the elephants. Enter Dumbo. In the beloved cartoon it’s Timothy Q. Mouse that champions Dumbo. But since this movie does not have talking animals, I think it was so clever having the kids be the ones to really believe in Dumbo and help him learn to fly. As the story unfolds, you can’t help but be endeared to this family and want to see them succeed!
They couldn’t have pulled the movie off without including the “Baby Mine” scene. This is where you need to break out the Kleenex box. In no way was this version of the movie a musical, so I was really happy that they found a way to incorporate this song. Still as moving as always, this was probably one of the most endearing parts of the movie.
With Tim Burton directing the movie, you can expect big and over the top. The set design and costumes for the film were breathtaking. The costume designer used 90% vintage costumes from that era. In the movie is a place called Dreamland which had a remarkable resemblance to Disneyland. Except the millionaire tycoon who owned it was the opposite of Walt Disney. In fact… it actually felt like Tim Burton was poking fun of the Disney Empire, which I personally didn’t appreciate. I did enjoy the world that he created though. If you look closely you might recognize the Wonders of Science in the background. Definitely a nod to the former Wonders of Life pavilion at Epcot. Dreamland was actually a real amusement park on Coney Island, Brooklyn NY from 1904 to 1911. So there’s an obvious nod to that as well.
If you are wondering if the Pink Elephants make an appearance, they indeed do. But unlike the 1941 version, Dumbo doesn’t accidentally get drunk. They creatively worked it into a circus act with bubbles. I thought it was brilliant!
The thing that I keep hearing is that this movie makes people feel so emotional. I think the reason Dumbo makes people so emotional is because on some level we can all connect with him. At some point we have also felt like that. Awkward. Like we don’t really belong. Different or weird. These human connections make us empathize with dumbo. For me, it’s painful to watch him get picked on and teased. Too raw and too real. As a mom I really connect with Mrs Jumbo. Is there anything you wouldn’t do to protect your child? This movie brings to the surface those feelings of sadness, wanting to protect the ones we love. Or protect ourselves. Whether it’s internet trolls, past experience in school, work, friends or wherever. Sadly it’s still too common of a problem. Too many people are not accepted for what makes them special. Disney has a shirt for sale right now. The quote is ‘what makes you different makes you special’. It’s time to embrace that. Not only in ourselves but in those around us too. That’s what this movie speaks to me. That’s the message of Dumbo.
If you have a sensitive child, I will say there are some very intense moments in the movie that might frighten them. It’s nothing overly terrifying but having had a sensitive child myself, I feel it was worth the mention so you can decide.
Animals in captivity are a bit of a hot topic these days and I was wondering how Disney would handle it. I won’t spoil the ending, but I think people will be pleased in the end.
As always, Disney threw in some Easter eggs. For those of you that don’t know what that is, Disney will often throw in subtle things as a nod to other movies or characters. Here’s what I noticed in this movie.
Timothy Q. Mouse played a major part in the cartoon classic. They didn’t have any talking animals in the live action but they represented him in different ways. The mice in the live action movie were wearing outfits very similar to Timothy from the cartoon. Milly and Joe really took his place. Milly had a few lines that echoed Timothy like “show ’em Dumbo”.
Max Medici, played by Danny DeVito, had a monkey that looked a lot like Abu from Aladdin. Perhaps a nod to the fact that Aladdin is the next live action movie to follow?
The floor of the circus ring had a red star circled by yellow. It definitely resembled the Pixar ball.
While Dumbo was not delivered by a stork, they made reference to it by having a stork land on Mrs. Jumbo’s trailer and the next day, Dumbo is there. That was a cute way to slip it in there.
After Mrs. Jumbo loses her cool and is locked away, in the cartoon she is put in a trailer with the sign ‘mad elephant’ attached. While it didn’t look exactly the same, you can see the ‘mad elephant’ sign in the background.
Feathers are another huge reference in the live action. How could he fly without it?
Another very subtle reference is the lead actress in the film is named Colette. She has a french accent and is always wearing a feather. In Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, one of the female birds is Colette. Coincidence? Probably not.
I think anytime I can incorporate Disneybounding, I’m going to try. I’m no professional cosplayer, but there are always ways to add simple touches. I just went with a grey t-shirt and I put a yellow and red bow in my hair. Super easy, but I think you can easily catch the reference.
Overall, I really liked this rendition of Dumbo and highly recommend it to anyone.
Have a magical day!