What Dumbo’s Cast Thinks About Animals Being Used In Entertainment

Looking back on the original Dumbo, it’s not exactly a film with a big message. After all, it only clocks in at a little over an hour long, and basically just about the misadventures of a baby elephant with big ears and his mouse friend. The same cannot be said about Tim Burton’s new live-action adaptation, however, and I recently had the chance to ask the film’s cast about one of the blockbuster’s key themes: the treatment of animals in entertainment.

Earlier this month I participated in the domestic press day for Dumbo in Los Angeles, and having the opportunity to sit down with Colin Farrell, Eva Green, and Danny DeVito, one subject that I brought up in every interview was one of the movie’s key messages. Each of them had a different perspective on the question, but also expressed a certain pride in how it comes across in Dumbo.

If the opportunities aren’t obvious, you might just not be familiar with the plot of the new film. Set in the wake of World War I, and primarily following a low-rent circus, Dumbo not only features all of the trauma of watching the titular elephant get forcibly separated from his mother, but also has a frank discussion about the exploitation of animals in entertainment. And not only is this something important to the plot of the film, but it’s also worth noting that the production itself made significant use of CGI animals instead of real ones (including for the creation of its eponymous character).

Not every animal in Dumbo is digitally added, as Colin Farrell’s character rides some very real horses in the movie. Interestingly, though, this led to some further consideration of their use in the movie by the actor, who definitely took the message of the movie to heart:

I've often questioned the use of horses and stuff, because at least a human being says, 'Yes, I want to be there,' and is getting paid for their services. Whereas a horse has no choice... I'd always be very adamant to make sure the horses, certainly anywhere close to me, aren’t mistreated in any way. And, and across the board, by in large, the horses have always, as far as I could see, have been treated wonderfully. But this film does make statements on the cruelty of the circus at that particular time, especially in relation to animals.

Playing aerialist Colette Marchant in the movie, who winds up performing an act with Dumbo, Eva Green had a lot of opportunity to do some non-animal acting in the film, and it seems that it wasn’t something that made the experience any more of a challenge. Even though working with a big green stuffed animal instead of a real creature meant using her imagination a bit more during production, being a part of a story like Dumbo and getting across its messaging was a point of pride for the actress. Green said,

We didn't have real elephants in, in this movie. We had wonderful CGI people who created some magic. I'm super proud to be in a Disney movie that promotes animal free circuses. Animals are not meant to live in captivity.

Dumbo, which also stars Michael Keaton, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, and Finley Hobbins, arrives in theaters this Friday – and stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more from my interviews with the actors and filmmakers!

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.