Dumbo soars, but not as high as the original

Hanna Zakharenko, Web/Social Media Editor

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Dumbo took to the big screen last weekend as Disney’s first live-action film of 2019, soon to be followed by Aladdin in May and The Lion King in July. Despite Disney’s push for live-action movies this year, Dumbo has brought in an all-time low at the box office for a live-action remake, with $46M projected after its first weekend, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

It’s no wonder numbers are so low; with the original film released almost 80 years ago, there is a much smaller fanbase surrounding Dumbo. This is why director Tim Burton diverges from the original plot to bring viewers an updated version, all encased in his visually pleasing film style.

The film follows struggling circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) as he assigns former circus star Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) and his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) to care for the newest addition to the circus, Dumbo. When Milly and Joe find out that Dumbo can use his ears to fly, it soon becomes the circus’ main attraction, gaining the attention of entrepreneur V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who hopes to have Dumbo star at his new theme park.

Aside from this classic plot, Burton takes many twists and turns with this modern remake which alters some of the underlying themes of the original movie. A major aspect that changed were the mentors in Dumbo’s path to flight. While the original movie had crows teach Dumbo his hidden talent, the crows were seen by some as racist, especially considering that the main crow was named Jim Crow after the segregation laws. Burton chose to avoid this racial controversy and replace it with gender empowerment, choosing Milly, a young girl who wants to be a scientist but is never taken seriously, to teach Dumbo to fly.

Another change in the film is thanks to PETA, who asked Burton in 2015 that Dumbo have a happier ending for the animals. PETA’s Senior Vice President of Communications, Lisa Lange, told The Hollywood Reporter, “We’re hopeful that in your adaptation of Dumbo, the young elephant and his mother can have a truly happy ending by living out their lives at a sanctuary instead of continuing to be imprisoned and abused in the entertainment industry.”

With its many changes to the original plot, it is certain that there was a lot of thought put into how the messages in Dumbo translates to today’s audience. Despite this, the film’s numerous changes can go two ways: it may ruin the movie for original film fans, or put the film in a new light for those who disliked the original film and its grim message. I thought that the film was strong because the changes did not negatively impact the plot. There is, however, one thing that all audience members can agree on: as always, Dumbo is absolutely adorable.