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Dumbo

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Dumbo Movie Poster Image
Visually impressive remake is sweet but sometimes dark.
  • PG
  • 2019
  • 105 minutes

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 48 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 25 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Kids will learn a bit about early circus acts and how they functioned, as well as lessons in honesty, teamwork, compassion.

Positive Messages

Messages focus on right and wrong way to treat animals, how no one should ridicule others because of their appearance, how communities work together to help one another. Promotes idea that our differences help make us special. Children can have a big impact. A mother's love is absolutely unconditional, but the story also uses the idea of Dumbo being able to earn his mother back by doing well -- which could be upsetting for kids/families who've dealt with separation (through adoption, foster care, etc.). Kids don't have to have same dreams and goals as their parents. Themes also include teamwork, empathy, compassion. One "throwaway" line seems to poke fun at emotional overeating.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mrs. Jumbo is a loving, protective mother. Dumbo doesn't speak, but he learns to fly and communicate with the kids. Milly and Joe are kind, patient animal lovers; Milly dreams of being a scientist. Holt is slightly clueless about how to parent at first but loves his kids, keeps them safe -- and learns more about how to relate to them along the way. Colette remembers what it's like to be valued for who she is, rather than what she looks like and can do. Max's circus is made up of people with many unusual talents; ultimately, their special skills are all important. Max typically means well but is a bit selfish -- but it's nothing compared to Mr. Vandevere, who's epitome of valuing profit over people. Some diversity among cast, including within Farrier family.

Violence & Scariness

Several disturbing/upsetting/scary scenes. Cruel animal handler threatens, punches Mrs. Jumbo; Holt hits him. Unsympathetic character crushed to death in tent collapse (body shown being carried out under drape). Mrs. Jumbo goes a bit wild trying to protect/defend Dumbo, causes chaos/panic and damage; she's separated from Dumbo in particularly sad sequence (and he's often sad during ensuing time apart). Mrs. Jumbo is chained up. During performance, Dumbo, surrounded by fire, looks like he's going to fall to injury or death but ultimately flies. Milly, Colette, Holt all fall/slip from heights in other scenes but end up OK. Someone orders Mrs. Jumbo killed. Men with guns pursue Farrier family (including kids); one man knocks a child down. Farrier family is stuck in circus ring surrounded by fire. Flames and destruction. Dreamland attraction "Nightmare Island" is dark and creepy, with scary noises, animals (bear, alligator, "werewolf," etc.) on display. References to Holt's wife/the children's mother's death from influenza; they all miss, mourn her. Holt lost an arm in the war (WWI). During a performance, a gun is used to pop a balloon.

Sexy Stuff

A couple of longing looks and a kiss between an adult couple.

Language

A couple uses of "hell" and one incomplete "s--t," plus "heck," "son of a gun," "scalawag," "freak."

Consumerism

Nothing on camera, but Disney has a lot of merchandise both through partnerships and their own brands: plush figures, apparel, toys, etc.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters toast good news with champagne. Max's desk drawer is shown to have flasks in it.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dumbo is director Tim Burton's live-action take on Disney's 1941 animated classic about everyone's favorite flying elephant. This version -- which stars Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, and Danny DeVito -- keeps the original's spirit while expanding on its storyline and kicking things up in the scariness department thanks to Burton's signature intensity. The movie's vibrant, colorful world is peppered with dark, creepy sequences/elements, including a cruel animal handler, a character who's crushed to death by a collapsing circus tent, armed henchmen who pursue both animals and children, characters in peril/falling from heights, and an amusement park attraction that's aptly named Nightmare Island. There are also some very sad parts, like when Mrs. Jumbo is separated from baby Dumbo, which might prove upsetting for younger/more sensitive viewers and foster and/or adoptive families. Characters also discuss loss (the main kid characters' mom died from influenza). Language is minimal ("hell" and one incomplete "s--t" are about it), and this version of the film thankfully doesn't have the racially stereotyped crow characters or a drunk, hallucinating Dumbo. And it has themes of teamwork, compassion, and empathy and promotes the idea that our differences help make us special.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAllykayyy April 9, 2019

Straight up depressing. (Classic Tim Burton.)

Like someone else said, it has a happy ending but the overall tone of the movie is NOT for kids. It's basically a Series of Unfortunate events but with an... Continue reading
Adult Written bymovieman48 April 1, 2019

An Elephantine Flop

The early cartoon version of Dumbo had simplicity, charm, humour and at least one cracking good song. Tim Burton's pedestrian remake has none of these qual... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bySlytherin Queen April 23, 2019

good remake, dark and a little boring at times

Dumbo is a great movie for the family, however there are times when it gets dark and scary. There are also lots of very sad moments and lots of mentions of deat... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byWe are Us April 5, 2019

Dumbo a classical treasure

It was awesome, the graphics where amazing the story even better I recommend watching it with all your family

What's the story?

Directed by Tim Burton, DUMBO is set in 1919 at the end of World War I. Veteran Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), who was a famed horse trainer/rider before the war, comes home to his two children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), who live with the traveling Medici Brothers Circus, which is run by irascible ringmaster Max Medici (Danny DeVito). Because Holt is now an amputee (he's missing an arm) and his beloved wife died during the 1918 influenza pandemic, Max tells Holt he can't return to his horse act. Instead, Holt is asked to take care of the circus's latest acquisition: Mrs. Jumbo, a pregnant elephant who's about to give birth to a baby that should prove a profitable draw for the troupe. But when Mrs. Jumbo's baby is born with enormous, floppy ears, everyone laughs and calls him "Dumbo." What no one knows is that Milly and Joe have discovered that the little elephant can fly. When Dumbo makes his soaring debut, New York amusement park impresario V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) swoops in to convince Max to move to Coney Island and become part of his fabulous Dreamland destination.

Is it any good?

Burton's colorful reimagining of Disney's 1941 classic is visually impressive and stars an adorable CGI flying elephant, but the plot and characterizations are underwhelming. Shot entirely indoors, the film uses a ton of special effects, from the digital removal of Holt's arm and the creation of the entirely CGI baby Dumbo to the elaborate backdrops of Dreamland and any outdoor sequence, including the sky itself. The movie's technical aspects -- including the art direction, the costume design (by four-time Academy Award winner Colleen Atwood), and the special effects -- are all outstanding. Music by frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman incorporates the touching song "Baby Mine" and other pieces from the original, here rendered as instrumentals rather than with words.

But while there's a certain joy in seeing Burton veterans like Keaton and DeVito reunite, the plot mostly focuses on the Farriers and their interaction with Dumbo. Siblings Milly and Joe have a sweet relationship, but the young actors don't have much familial chemistry with their on-screen father. (Eva Green, also a Burton regular, can effortlessly evoke mystery and danger at this point in her career and is well cast as Vandevere's star performer, Colette.) And it's a shame that the diverse ensemble that makes up Max's circus isn't used more. Still, the movie's main draw is less the cast than the opportunity to ooh and aah at flying Dumbo -- who, in Burton's vision, gets a happier ever after than in the animated original.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Dumbo's violent and/or scary scenes. How much scary stuff can young kids handle? What was more upsetting to you: the parts with peril and danger or the sad separations? Why do you think that is?

  • How do the characters in Dumbo demonstrate courage and empathy? Why are these important character strengths?

  • Discuss the differences between this version and the original. Why do you think certain aspects of the first film needed to be changed? Is there anything missing that you'd have liked to see?

  • One of the movie's messages is that our differences help make us special. Do you agree? How do you see that reflected in your own, everyday life?

  • How accurately do you think the movie portrays early-1900s circus troupes? Why has the circus become a controversial form of entertainment in more recent decades?

Movie details

Character Strengths

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