Dumbo: Celebrating difference

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‘The message in this film is one of inclusion, not just accepting difference but celebrating difference’ said the actor Colin Farrell at the world premiere of Disney’s new film Dumbo.

In the opening scenes his character, Holt Farrier, returns from the war without one arm, which shocks his children. ‘It’s still me’ he says, and that is perfectly true. But his follow-on ‘everything is going to be just like it was before’ is more wishful thinking than reality. He can no longer perform on his beloved circus horses, so is assigned to dressing as a clown and cleaning up the elephants’ dung.

And it is in their cage that he discovers the newborn baby elephant with big ears. The ringmaster who had hoped for a ‘precious bundle of joy’ calls Dumbo ‘a monster… damaged goods’ and tries to cover up the ears with a special bonnet, in the same way that he tries to cover up Holt’s missing arm with a fake one.

Dumbo is the quintessential outsider who is rejected and ridiculed just because of his looks, whilst Holt also faces his own rejection because of his disability. Tim Burton, who directed the film, not only brings to it his well-known talent for the fantastical but also his skill in provoking the audience to think about the value of the outsider – those who don’t fit the popular mould. And as the film progresses, Dumbo’s large ears enable him to rescue others in a dramatic scene in which Holt also plays a key role, regardless of his disability.

So, we are caused to think about the value of ‘difference’. If others make us feel unhappy with how we look, or if we face sudden changes to our bodies, do we feel pressured to cover up and try to continue just like we were before? Or can we celebrate the differences and embrace the changes, bringing them out into the open and using them for the good of others?