By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
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, Dream land. 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. “Dumbo” is a cute film based on the 1941 tale of an elephant whose mother named Jumbo was a regular part of a 1920s era traveling circus. This story has been updated with the differences celebrated being those that promote inclusion, including a biracial family, a physically-challenged war hero, and a bevy of other characters that showcase a fat lady, a signifying monkey and an eccentric circus owner. Gone are the racist undertones that were included in the original such as the singing Black crows and other elements.
The A-list actress Thandie Newton’s daughter Parker plays Milly whose father, Holt, plays the disabled veteran. Her casting along with that of her movie brother Joe, who is white, represents the biracial aspect of “Dumbo.”
This Burton fantasy film revolves around the fact that Milly, who would rather be a scientist, figures out that Dumbo can fly if a feather is waved under his nose. The trick works, even though everyone is always anxious each time that Dumbo has to fly. Will it work another time?
Vandevere is a devious and ruthless businessman who makes empty promises to Medici about keeping his full staff under the new company. Dreamland is gaining more visitors, but all isn’t well with Vandevere and Colette, who is also his love interest. She has perfected the craft of sitting on top of Dumbo as he flies around. This depiction is great with computer-generated imagery, but Vandevere has plans to strike out on his own and leave Medici high and dry. Other factors at play are the elimination of Dumbo and his mother and the eventual destruction of the somber atmosphere of Dreamland.
I adored the fact that Newton’s daughter is in this film. Parker looks so much like her mother, is very fair skinned and consequently can pull off being Holt’s kid. However, I wasn’t very impressed with her acting—unless it was the intent of Burton to have Milly appear with a great lack of emotion to coincide with her displeasure of working in the circus. She would really rather explore science, and the only time that I saw her eyes light up or her exhibit any animation was during the final scenes of the film when she and Joe are flying atop of Dumbo.
Reportedly, “Dumbo” did not do as well at the box office during its first weekend, although Keaton is great as the conniving businessman. Nevertheless, it’s a decent remake of a classic in which younger generations might find delight. It preaches inclusion and tolerance for those who seem to be treading upstream and are not a part of the general population. The final message in the end is to treat others as you would like to be treated and for society to be a bit more forgiving of those who are different. Not bad for a story about an elephant.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusadernewspaper. She is also the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago.” For book info, firstname.lastname@example.org.