Warning: Spoilers for Dumbo are ahead.
With a release date of 1941, Dumbo is one of Disney’s oldest animated films and subsequently one of the most loved and influential. So, following the trend of creating live-action movies based on animated films, of course Dumbo and his lovable, floppy ears had to return to the big screen. But, with Tim Burton on board as the director and a screenplay by Ehren Kruger, some creative license was allowed with the material. While the overall plot of Dumbo being mocked for his unique ears that give him the ability to fly remains intact, a bunch of new characters were added to the Dumbo remake. Still, despite including characters played by Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton, and more, what really sets this reimagined version apart from the original is Dumbo's more animal rights-friendly ending.
Although Dumbo’s fellow elephants are the characters that ridicule and ostracize him the most for his ears in the original film, there are still a few animated humans that appear. None of them have any redeeming qualities as they are shown whipping the elephants and making Dumbo participate in an embarrassing circus routine with clowns. The worst moment, however, comes when Dumbo’s mother is shackled and essentially put into solitary confinement when she tries to protect Dumbo from the judgmental human audience.
The only time we see Mrs. Jumbo “free” is during the final moments of the film when she is reunited with Dumbo and they are in their separate train cart headed to the next circus location. But, they are only together because Dumbo has made the circus profitable with audiences flocking to see his flying talent. None of the animals actually receive better treatment and they all remain captive. The original ending is problematic and slightly depressing because it lacks remorse from all the characters (except the crows!) for how they mistreated Dumbo and his mother during the entire film. It’s certainly does not have a compelling animal rights message.
Well, Burton’s version attempts to right this wrong. Although there are plenty of human characters in the film that only want to use Dumbo for profit or make fun of him, they are portrayed as either villainous or idiotic and don’t receive happy endings. Dumbo is awarded the proper ending he deserves, though, as the other circus performers help him and his mother escape the circus completely. The final moments of the film show Mrs. Jumbo and Jumbo joining their fellow elephants in the wild. The other animals accept Dumbo for who he is as he soars through the air. Plus, Danny DeVito’s character, a circus owner named Max Medici, delivers a very pointed line when he declares that at his newly constructed circus all the animals will now be free. There’s even a shot of the circus mice being released from their cages.
The new ending expresses the belief that no animal should be held in captivity or separated from their mothers in exchange for human enjoyment. That belief is reiterated throughout the film through the characters of Milly and Joe (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins) who are constantly trying to explain to their father and the other adults that Dumbo and his mother need to be together. There are also multiple reaction shots from Dumbo to make the audience see the pain humans are causing him by forcing the baby elephant to be a spectacle for audiences to gawk at instead of letting him be free with his kind.
Dumbo will make you want to scream at the ridiculous humans who fail to respect him and then make you want to cry seeing poor baby Dumbo suffer. But, the happiness Dumbo shows at the end should make it all worth it. Plus, the film proves that animals behave better than humans. But who didn’t know that already?