Dumbo is a live action adaptation of the original 1941 Disney animation, directed by Tim Burton. The movie is set in 1941 as the Medici Brothers circus travels all around America. World War I and a deadly outbreak of influenza has reduced both the circus’s acts and its audiences. Circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) has gambled on the purchase of a pregnant elephant, hoping that a cute baby elephant will draw big crowds. Much to Max’s horror, when the baby elephant is born, it has enormous, flappy ears – an abomination! In anger, Max sells the mother elephant. Her baby, Dumbo, is left all alone.
Returned war veteran Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) cares for the circus elephants. His two young children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), take pity on little Dumbo and comfort him. They lost their mother to influenza and can empathise with the elephant’s fear and despair. They cheer up Dumbo by cuddling, feeding and playing with him, and they notice his ears have an extraordinary and magical ability – they allow the baby elephant to fly! At first nobody believes them, but one day Dumbo takes flight and amazes everybody.
As word travels of the amazing flying elephant, a distant theme park owner, V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), decides that he wants Dumbo for his circus. He convinces Max Medici that a collaboration would be a good idea and, seduced by the promise of fame and fortune, Max agrees. Although everything seems wonderful in Vandevere’s glamorous Dreamworld theme park, the pressures of performing and Dumbo’s growing desperation to be reunited with his mother become too much. This makes for a disastrous adventure.
Death of a parent; separation from a parent; animal cruelty and animals in captivity; being different from ‘normal’; war.
Dumbo has some violence. For example:
- An animal handler is being cruel to an elephant, and Holt Farrier punches the man in the face. The man falls to the ground.
- An animal handler is cruel to an elephant, threatening her with a whip and pushing her.
- Max Medici has a cheeky monkey that likes to climb on him and irritate him. In one scene, Max repeatedly shoves the monkey into a drawer and tries to lock it inside. This is presented as funny.
Dumbo has some mild romantic references. For example:
- The acrobat Collette and Holt Farrier flirt very mildly.
- A circus couple embrace.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
None of concern
Nudity and sexual activity
None of concern
None of concern
Dumbo has some very mild coarse language.
Ideas to discuss with your children
The original Disney animation Dumbo was a sad story, and Tim Burton captures the darker side of the original animation well, with signature visual grittiness and quirkiness. At the same time, this story has a happy ending, and the movie has some powerful messages about loss, compassion and being different.
This isn’t a movie for very young children, because its central themes of parent separation, death and animal cruelty could be very distressing. And if you have older children, you’ll need to decide whether they’ll enjoy the story or be distressed by the darker, more frightening elements of the movie.
The main messages from this movie are that being different isn’t something to be ashamed of and that animals deserve our compassion.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include:
- showing compassion to animals
- appreciating that everybody is unique, and this makes life interesting.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues like:
- whether animals should be kept in captivity, particularly just for human entertainment
- how to respond when someone looks or behaves in a different or unusual way
- whether fame or fortune is worth it if they come at someone else’s expense.