Australian Council on Children and the Media

Dumbo

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Not recommended for children under 8 and parental guidance to 11 (scary and emotionally distressing scenes). Parent caution: this film may be distressing to young children as well as older children who are sensitive to themes of parental separation and animal cruelty.

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Dumbo
  • a review of Dumbo completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 2 April 2019.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 8 Not recommended. Scary and emotionally distressing scenes.
Children aged 8-11 Parental guidance recommended. Scary and emotionally distressing scenes.
Children over the age of 12 OK for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Dumbo
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild themes, some scenes may scare young children.
Length 112 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Dumbo is a live action adaptation of the original 1941 Disney animation, directed by Tim Burton. The year is 1941 and the scene is set with the Medici Brothers circus travelling the length and Breadth of America. They have been hit hard by World War I and a deadly outbreak of Influenza which has left them thin on acts and thin on audiences. Circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) has gambled on the purchase of a pregnant elephant, hoping that a cute baby elephant is going to draw some big crowds. Much to his horror, when the baby elephant is born, it has enormous, long, flappy ears – an abomination! In anger, Max sells the mother elephant and baby ‘Dumbo’ is left all alone. Returned war veteran, Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) oversees caring for the circus elephants; and his two young children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) take pity on little Dumbo and comfort him. They have also lost their mother to Influenza and can empathise with the elephant’s fear and despair. As they cheer up Dumbo; cuddling, feeding and playing with him; they notice that Dumbo’s 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 needs Dumbo to perform in his own circus. He convinces Max Medici that a collaboration would be a good idea. Seduced by the promise of fame and fortune, Max agrees. Although it all seems too good to be true in the glamourous ‘Dreamworld’ theme park, the pressures of performing; the growing desperation of Dumbo to escape and be reunited with his mother become too much, proving a disastrous adventure.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Death of a parent; separation from a parent; animal cruelty and animals in captivity; being different from ‘normal’; war.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • Holt Farrier punches another animal handler in the face, bowling him over. This is seen as deserved, as the man was being cruel to the elephant.
  • An animal handler is cruel to the 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 he repeatedly shoves the monkey into a drawer and tries to lock it inside. This is for comic effect.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • Milly and Joe run to greet their father at the train. He is arriving after fighting in the war. They are startled to see that he is missing an arm and feel strange about giving him a hug.
  • There are lots of strange and sometimes frightening looking ‘circus acts’ or characters in this film. There are several characters with deliberately ‘cruel’ faces. Some younger children may find these characters frightening.
  • Dumbo’s mother is trying to protect her baby, but the animal handlers come and roughly shove her out of the trailer, which makes her very distressed.
  • Dumbo is separated from his mother and she is shackled inside a trailer. He can only reach up his trunk and entwine it with her through a small barred window. Dumbo is very sad, and it is a very emotional scene.
  • Dumbo’s mother is sold to someone and leaves the Medici circus. The scene where she is taken away in a trailer and the distraught Dumbo is left behind is very emotional and small children are likely to find it very distressing.
  • At the Dreamland theme park there is an attraction called ‘Nightmare Island’ which is a large mountain structure with a glowing skull-like face, full of ‘scary’ and nightmarish attraction. Young children and sensitive children may find this quite scary.
  • Dumbo is performing as a clown and is forced to climb a high ladder to the top of the tent. A fire starts and he is trapped at the top of the burning platform. He must fly or fall. It is a very intense and scary scene.
  • Dumbo is watching some bubble blowers inside the circus tent and the bubbles take on the appearance of big, pink, wobbly elephant shapes. It is unclear if this is real or a hallucination, but some children may find it disconcerting or scary.
  • When Dumbo and the acrobat are about to start their high-flying act, they suddenly realise that the safety net has not been put out to catch them if they fall.
  • Many scenes of building catching fire and burning down.
  • Holt, Milly and Joe are trapped inside a burning circus tent. They manage to escape with Dumbo’s help.
  • The children are pursued by one of Vandervere’s security staff, they run and try and hide but he is very menacing.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

  • Children of this age will also find the above-mentioned violent and scary scenes scary and disturbing.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Younger children, and sensitive children in this age group are still likely to find many of the above-mentioned scenes very emotional and sometimes scary. Parents are advised to use their discretion about the suitability of the content for their child.  In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • Milly and Joe have experienced the loss of their mother (she died of Influenza). This is not talked about explicitly, but for children who have experienced the death of a parent it may be distressing.
  • Children in this age group may be sensitive to the themes of animal cruelty and animals in captivity and wish to discuss with their parents.
  • When Dumbo performs at first, he is met with ridicule (for being so different, a ‘freak’) and the audience laugh and throw objects at him. He is confused and distressed by this.
  • The relationship between V.A Vandervere and the acrobatic performer Collete (Eva Green), is manipulative and abusive. For example, he orders that during a particularly dangerous act, the safety nets are not rolled out beneath her. She is shocked that he would do such a cruel thing. She discusses that she is simply a decorative accessory to Vandervere, that she means nothing romantic to him.
  • Milly and Joe have a strained relationship with their father, who seems awkward about how to talk to the children. Although this does lessen and resolve throughout the film.
  • Milly and Joe mention how ‘the mermaid’ (an overweight performer who dresses up as a mermaid) eats when she feels sad.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Nothing of concern for this age group, however children with personal experience of death of a parent or separation from a parent may find this film emotionally distressing. 

Product placement

There is no product placement in this film.

Sexual references

There are some mild romantic references in this movie, including:

  • Very mild flirtation between the acrobat Collette and Holt Farrier.
  • A circus couple embrace.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is no nudity or sexual activity in this movie.

Use of substances

There is no use of substances in this film.

Coarse language

There is some mild coarse language in this movie, including:

  • Hell
  • An interrupted ‘sh*t’
  • Freak

In a nutshell

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, there is a lovely happy ending and the film has some powerful messages about loss, compassion and being different. Parents should know that this is not a film for very young children, as the themes of parent separation, death and animal cruelty are central to the story and could be very distressing. Discretion is advised as to whether older children will enjoy the darker, more frightening elements of the film; whether they will find it distressing; or just not much fun.

The main messages from this movie are that being different is not something to be ashamed of and that animals deserve our compassion.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Showing compassion to animals.
  • Appreciating that everybody has something unique about them; and that is what makes life interesting.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • Whether animals should be kept in captivity, particularly just for human entertainment.
  • How to respond when someone looks or behaves in a way that is ‘different’.
  • The consequences of being greedy for fame or fortune, particularly at the expense of others.

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