Some moments stay with you forever, the memories of them as fresh as when they were originally burned into your psyche. The first time I saw Dumbo was one of those moments. It broke my heart and made my soul leap with joy, creating a juxtaposition that I couldn’t understand, and still have trouble processing to this day. Walt Disney’s story of an elephant who could fly is still one of my favourite animated movies and its ability to move audiences remains as potent eight decades after its initial release as it did when the curtain was raised on its premiere. At its beating heart is a story that everyone can relate to, that of the underdog who rises above all that life throws at him and despite the odds being hopelessly stacked against him, eventually soars high above the world that tried to hold him down. Despite Dumbo’s place in my favoured cinematic pantheon, I’ve yet to see Tim Burton’s reimagining of the film, as I fear that it might damage my still fragile spirt beyond repair. I’ll see it one day, but just not quite yet.
Given my complicated relationship with Dumbo, I approached John Jackson Miller’s Friends in High Places with an air of rare caution. I needn’t have worried however, as the gentle, beautifully told story is one of joy and the value of friendship, in which Dumbo takes centre stage and proves that his true worth isn’t as the unique star of the circus, but as part of the ensemble of performers and family who rely and depend on each other to ensure their combine and continued success. Part mystery, part tale of mistaken identity and the changing face of the circus as it desperately tries to keep pace with the ever evolving modern world, Friends in High Places is a gorgeously illustrated fable of life, relationships and the wonderfully eccentric cast of characters who surround, and love, the little elephant who could. Admittedly, there were a few tear filled moments here and there, but they were born from Miller’s ability to weave an uplifting story and his artistic compatriots astounding ability to bring his vision to life and not from grief or sadness. It’s time to fly, so grab some popcorn, get yourself a ticket for the big top and spend some time with Dumbo and his friends. You’ll be glad you did. Tim Cundle