He a former circus equestrian performer who finds his life turned upside down when he returns from World War I. He has lost his wife, Annie, and his circus act, and struggles to connect with his two children, Milly and Joe. When he is asked by the circus owner to care for a newborn elephant whose oversized ears make him a laughing stock, Holt doesn't exactly jump at the opportunity—but his children do, which opens the door to a future bond he never saw coming.
Holt is described as the father of his children Joe and Milly. Ever since he lost his arm during his last war, the ringmaster Max Medici gives him a fake arm as a replacement. Ever since he returned to the Medici Bros. Circus, it is found out that his wife Annie died during the influenza and Holt is also described as a horse rider.
To his help to the circus before it included an animal-free policy, he does not tolerate any animal handler being rude to other animals, such as his moment with Rufus Sorghum. Whenever he sees Rufus doing this action, he stops him from causing any harm to animals.
Behind the scenes
Colin Farrell portrays Holt. “He was half of a double act with his wife before he went off to fight in the First World War,” says Farrell of his character. “They had a horse act where they would do roping tricks and trick riding, but he was sent off to fight and left his wife and two children behind. By the time he comes back, his wife has passed away and his children were raised by the circus. He’s also lost his left arm in battle, so he is both physically and psychologically wounded. He comes back to a life he doesn’t recognize. He doesn’t know how to deal with the grief of having lost his wife.”
Farrell’s casting marks the first time he’s worked with director Tim Burton, who says the actor instantly found the heart of the character. “Holt is war damaged, he’s missing an arm, he used to be a star, he hasn’t seen his kids and he doesn’t really know how to talk to them,” says Burton. “To try and do that subtly and emotionally takes a certain type of person, somebody who understands drama and comedy and emotion, all mixed together. It’s a subtle part, and those are sometimes the hardest ones to do. Colin’s great because he did it, he really understood the mixture of all of those things. Plus, he can ride a horse one-armed, and you can’t say that about everybody. He was a real collaborator, and really fun to work with.”
Farrell is no stranger to horses, having appeared in several films that required extensive horse riding (“Alexander,” “Winter’s Tale,” among others). “Any of the times I’ve ridden horses in films, there’s always a specific reason or scene that will demand a certain new skill set,” says the actor-slash-equestrian. “So, I’ve been doing a little bit of roping on this film that I hadn’t really ever done before, and that’s been tricky. But I’ve had some great guys working with me. Rowley Irlam, who’s the stunt coordinator I worked with on ‘Alexander,’ and Luis Miguel Arranz, who’s a Spanish horse trainer and rider, are kind of genius. So, it’s been fun. It’s a huge part of Holt’s life, so it was fairly important that I at least seem to have a sense of comfort.”
According to costume designer Colleen Atwood, Holt’s background as a performer and horseman influences his wardrobe. “He was a cowboy performer who was flashy when he was a circus star,” she says. “His costumes still have a southwestern flavor within the parameters of the period.”
“It’s a journey about a man becoming whole again,” Atwood continues. “It’s him finding himself again, and Colin and I worked together to find the right look for Holt. He comes back in a uniform, and he has a couple show outfits, but mainly he’s in work clothes, so it’s a very humble sort of costuming, which is a big contrast to the glamorous show costumes on the other side of the coin.”
Holt is introduced as the father of the children Milly and Joe Farrier to which as the children are happy to see their father back, the two found out that Holt never saw his children for a long time. Along the way, the circus performers are happy to see Holt back on the grounds the circus is being built. During a conversation with the ringmaster Max Medici, he explains to him that his wife Annie (who is also a circus performer) passed away during the influenza explaining that he wouldn't want to be a show-off in the circus if only Milly would do the trade, just as Max explains that the circus will be bankrupt by July. Telling him to take care of the circus' elephants, Max takes Holt and his family to the stable to a pregnant Mrs. Jumbo who is having a baby. Later at home, Holt tells the children to be practical in order to keep the show going on.
The next day, Joe and Milly wake up Holt, explaining that the elephants need them just as Holt and his children approach an animal handler named Rufus Sorghum to which during a conversation, it is interrupted upon noticing what is wrong with Mrs. Jumbo. Stopping Rufus from hurting Mrs. Jumbo, Holt slaps him to prevent any harm to the elephant to which it is found out that Mrs. Jumbo gave birth to a baby elephant named "Jumbo Junior" (aka "Baby Jumbo") as everyone reacts upon discovering the newborn elephant just as Max gives Holt a deadline to take care of the baby elephant by two weeks. During a conversation with Medici, he gives Holt a fake arm as a replacement of his missing arm (indicating he lost an arm during his last war) as Joe and Milly hurry towards him about Jumbo Junior's tricks the two did, telling the children to leave him alone.
During a circus performance, Holt brings in a large group of elephants into the circus, Jumbo Junior reveals his large ears and they call him "Dumbo" as the audience mocks him in reaction and looks at the broken "Dear Baby Jumbo" sign now reading "Ear Baby Dumbo", just as Holt tells the audience to stop scaring the baby elephant while trying to calm his mother Mrs. Jumbo. Holt tries to stop Rufus from harming Mrs. Jumbo to which Rufus calls her a mad elephant. As Mrs. Jumbo goes on a rampage across the circus, Holt and his children retreat from the mad elephant.
The next day, Holt and his children notice Mrs. Jumbo being taken away from the circus for being a mad elephant last night, separating Dumbo from his mother just as Holt, his children, and the circus performers react to Dumbo being separated. During the circus act where Dumbo is made into a clown, Holt and his children react in shock when Dumbo is about to fall off the collapsing platform just as Joe and Milly get a feather from a dove's cage and gives it to Dumbo so he can fly. The circus act, however, was a success as Dumbo flies across the circus, as everyone reacts in awe, making the show a success.
As Holt cleans Dumbo's stable, Max tells V.A. Vandevere that it is Holt's children who taught Dumbo how to fly; Holt, his children, and the rest of the circus acts travel to the Dreamland amusement park in Arkansas as part of Vandevere's plan. Arriving at Dreamland, Vandevere shows a poster of Holt himself riding on a horse, explaining that he can still ride, despite only having one arm. As Holt's children take care of Dumbo, Vandevere arrives and prepares Colette for an act with Dumbo to practice with help from Holt and his children. Holt feels worried about no nets for Colette to land safely to which Colette decides to start the act right away.
While talking to Vandevere at his office, Holt explains that the elephant Dumbo encountered in Nightmare Island is Mrs. Jumbo, his mother just as Milly and Joe want Dumbo reunited back to his mother but Vandevere refuses. He and Neils walk outside telling Neils to remove Dumbo's mother to avoid distractions to Dumbo. Later, Holt arrives towards Colette who explains that his children should believe in their father. Holt then enters the Wonders of Science attraction finding his daughter Milly just as Milly and her father gaze upon one of the displays.
With the whole troupe fired, Holt, his children, and the circus performers plan to rescue Dumbo by releasing him alongside his mother. Furthermore, Holt decides to help Colette by using his knife to cut open a hole in the tent for Colette and Dumbo to escape. Later while Milly and Joe are surrounded by Neils inside the tent as the fire blocks the exit, Holt riding on his horse comes to the rescue and captures Neils. Furthermore, Dumbo by himself manages to rescue Holt's family and manages to extinguish the fire blocking the exit. Holt and his family manage to escape the circus caught on fire as Dumbo reunites back to his mother by going to the seaport.
When the circus is re-established as "Medici Family Circus" with a new policy to not include wild animals performing, Holt and Colette perform in the re-established circus riding on the horse as Max Medici describes Holt during performance as a future cowboy.
- Colin Farrell, Holt's actor, previously starred in the 2013 Disney film, Saving Mr. Banks as P.L. Travers' father.
- Chris Pine, Will Smith, Casey Affleck and Bill Hader were all considered for the role of Holt Farrier before Colin Farrell was cast.