Dumbo: A Trumpeting Call to Defend the Weak

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer


Rating: 4/5 stars

Tim Burton’s adaptation of Dumbo had me in a flood of tears, and it was not tears of joy that flowed freely down my cheeks.

Burton’s Dumbo was inspired by the 1941 Walt Disney feature cartoon of the same name, and tells the story of a baby elephant whose very large ears made him the subject of ridicule, but it was also those very ears that propelled him to stardom.

However, the little elephant did not #wakeuplikethis to his superstar status. In fact, circus owner Max Medici was horrified when he realized he had a baby elephant with oversized ears. Dumbo had a “face that only a mother could love”, Medici declared.

Dumbo made his debut appearance to a crowd of circus-goers popped inside a wooden pram, and his ears hidden under a baby bonnet. Unfortunately, his ears unraveled the moment Dumbo sneezed, and his big, floppy ears were soon in the spotlight. The crowd started to boo and jeer at Dumbo, and pelted peanuts at the poor elephant (cue more tears from me).

Mrs Jumbo, sensing her child’s distress, rushed in to the circus ring and chaos soon ensued as the terrified circus-goers tried to flee the herd of elephants gone amok. Unfortunately, Mrs Jumbo’s act of defending her child resulted in her being locked up, with only a little barred window for Dumbo to stick his trunk in when he came to visit her.

As soon as the theme music, “Baby Mine”, came on in the background during this scene, I erupted into a fountain of tears. I had also reacted the same way when I had first watched the original Dumbo movie. My tears welled up when I saw how upset Dumbo was (he sat in a corner with big drops of tears rolling down his face) after overhearing a group of older elephants gossiping about his large ears.

Seeing Dumbo’s distress immediately brought me back to my 12-year-old self, when I had discovered a classmate had created a “burn book” (a “burn book” was popularized by Regina George and The Plastics in the movie, Mean Girls, which they created to start gossip and stories about their schoolmates) about me and another friend.

I recalled turning the pages of the “burn book” to discover the mean words my schoolmates had written about me, from the different variations of the spelling of my name (hint: it rhymes with hell), to unwanted comments on my appearance (“four-eyes” was the most popular, in reference to my glasses).

So when I saw Dumbo being laughed at and ridiculed, the pain that I felt those years ago resurfaced, and it made me empathize with the wee elephant. I couldn’t understand what he had done wrong to be treated in such a way, and I had to restrain myself from climbing inside the silver screen to give his mockers a good telling off.

Watching these scenes unfold reminded me of Psalm 82:3-4, where we are called to, “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

While I found it easy to empathize with Dumbo because he looks adorable with his big ears and blue eyes, I wondered if I would be brave enough to stand up for a fellow human being who was being bullied? Even though I knew what it was like to be at the center of negative attention, I realized that there were times when I had seen someone in the same situation, and did not have the courage to defend them or uphold their cause.

Years ago, when I was in high school, a group of schoolmates had locked a fellow classmate in one of the school’s toilets out of spite, ignoring the boy’s pleas to be released. I am ashamed to say that I, too, turned my back against him.

In my adolescent mind, social survival was vital, and my already failing social status in school prevented me from helping a distressed classmate. I did not want to be seen siding with the least cool kid in school. I weighed my options that day, and decided to walk away.

But the way the circus performers came together to comfort Dumbo when he was at his lowest made me rethink my actions. At this point, Mrs Jumbo was locked away as an exhibit in an amusement park called Nightmare Island. When the performers saw just how miserable Dumbo was without his mother, the group banded together to reunite mom and baby. Plans were immediately put into place to execute the grand reunion, starting with Miss Atlantis distracting the guards with her singing, to Rongo the Strongo using his strength to pull the iron bars apart, so the team could sneak in to rescue Mrs Jumbo.

Through their actions, I was reminded of Philippians 2:3-5, where we are called to “put on the mindset of Christ” (v. 5), look out for each other, and to value others above ourselves. Unlike the Medici performers, I took no action because I had put my own “selfish ambition” (not wanting to look like a loser) above my friend’s interests (being rescued from the school toilet).

But I am inspired by how Dumbo’s friends forged ahead with their mission to reunite Dumbo with his mom, and helped create a happy ending for them. The mother and son duo were eventually released back into the wild to spend the rest of their days with their own kind.

Dumbo is more than just a movie about a flying elephant. Even after I was done watching it, it kept me thinking about how we can all be a voice for the weak and defenseless—if only we will look around and notice the plight of those who are suffering. I hope that the next time a similar opportunity presents itself, I will be willing to step in and take action.

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