Ooh, PETA, yuck! Don’t you know they do bad things? Don’t you know they’re just all about publicity, and there are much better animal welfare organizations to support?
Indeed I do. I am not a supporter of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
But, in asking that Tim Burton change the ending of his recently announced live-action adaptation of Dumbo, they have a point.
“We’re hopeful that in your adaptation of Dumbo, the young elephant and his mother can have a truly happy ending by living out their lives at a sanctuary instead of continuing to be imprisoned and abused in the entertainment industry,” PETA senior VP Lisa Lange wrote Burton in an open letter, The Hollywood Reporter notes.
And that’s not wrong. Dumbo was made in 1941, and even then it acknowledged that the circus was a place of cruel treatment for animals.
Recall the clown that says elephants have got no feelings because they’re “made of rubber.” That made the kid version of me cry my eyes out. Elephants are also made to do dangerous stunts and get hurt doing them. Dumbo is tormented by cruel kids and when Dumbo’s mother tries to protect him, she is attacked with a whip and poles with pointed hooks and chained. Remember, this is the Disney-sanitized version, the real-life practices were and still are much crueler.
But despite all of that, when Dumbo proves himself at the end by showing everyone he can fly, he and his mother stay with the circus. His new mouse manager gets him a sweeter deal, obviously, with a private train car for himself and his mother. But some more gilding doesn’t make it less of a cage.
It’s nearly 75 years later and the inhumane practice of keeping elephants in circuses is only now ending. The most prominent circus that uses elephants, Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus, has just announced that it will be phasing its elephant acts out and after 130 years, retiring the circus’s last 13 performing elephants to its own conservation center in Florida by 2018.
I’m not sure if Burton’s Dumbo will be a period piece or not, although the news that it will add a human family story to parallel Dumbo’s journey and that it will used CGI elephants makes me think it will be a present-day update. But either way, it will be a fantasy, and it should have a happy ending.
Standards for that happy ending have changed over the last seven decades and ending where Dumbo stays in the circus is no longer satisfying enough. So let him really soar this time, and soar free.