‘Dumbo’ Theatrical Review
Disney has yet to win me over with their animated-turned-live action movies. Although the score and CGI of The Jungle Book, Alice In Wonderland and Beauty and the Beast are impressive, the films have failed to relive the magic produced by the originals. There has been quite a bit of backlash against this summer’s recreation of Aladdin, mainly because of Will Smith’s Genie. I’m not a fan of Smith’s work, but the comparison of him to the great Robin Williams is not why I don’t think the film will do well. Watching the trailer, there doesn’t seem to be anything in these live action films that the animated versions can’t provide, but better. Disney is smart in knowing that the emotional attachment we have with the classics will bring us to see these new editions, hoping we will enjoy them just as much. Dumbo is not just a classic, but also Disney’s love letter to mothers from their children. As a son, I would do anything for my mother, which is why I relate to Dumbo; everything he has to do to save his mother I would do as well, if in the same situation. The relationship between mother and son is why I have such an emotional attachment to the film. If there was anything I was hoping the live action version of Dumbo would produce, it is that feeling I used get watching in the family room with my mother as a child.
The best I can say for this Dumbo is that parents and their kids will enjoy it, and I guess that would be considered a win for Disney, as they will use that to sell new lines of merchandise featuring our favorite pachyderm. But not only does Dumbo fail to create the same tear filled memories, at times one could forget they were watching a film about Dumbo the Elephant. You would think a film that takes place at a circus, a setting filled with freaks and sideshows would be match for Tim Burton, but he runs into the same problems that plagued him in Alice In Wonderland, as he is now 0-2 in Disney remakes.
Although it is a challenge itself to reproduce Dumbo’s running time of barely an hour, the iconic moments of the original itself are left out or placed in a position that takes away its importance to the film. “Baby Mine” is arguably the most iconic song of the original. Burton recreates that scene with which we are familiar, but he does so right after Dumbo’s mom is locked up. By having this moment between Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo so early, instead of in the middle of the film, we fail to see how painful the absence of his mother is. The song is not even sung by his mother, but one of the circus performers. It makes the song pointless, and it’s not the only moment Burton makes seem dull and useless, as he does the same with “Pink Elephants on Parade.” Burton instead goes for the big visuals over storytelling, which feels cluttered and rushed at times. He has replaced talking animals with human characters in a story that not only puts the main character in the background for a good portion of the film, but at times just feels pointless, because Dumbo is a story that does not require much character development.
The story is set in 1919 in Sarasota Florida at the Medici circus that has fallen on hard times. Burton shows this with the faded colors on the circus tents. It is run, not by two brothers, but by one Max Medici (Danny DeVito), who even in the darkest of days, remains optimistic, especially after just making the purchase of Jumbo the elephant who is about to give birth. Max sees dollars signs from the draw a baby elephant will demand. Instead, a droopy, big-eared baby Jumbo is born to the dismay of Max, who now sees this cute elephant as nothing but a curse. At the same time, one of his former stars, Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), has returned home from the war where he lost one of his arms. While overseas, his wife passed away, leaving him widowed with two children, Mily (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) who know nothing but the circus life. Not only does he come home to a broken family, but has no act in the circus after Max has sold his prized horses. Instead, he is given the position of caretaker to elephants that his horses were sold for, and at first he finds the job beneath him. His job of hiding the ears of baby Jumbo fails the first night, and once exposed, the baby elephant is made fun of and renamed Dumbo by the crowd as they throw peanuts at him.
This results in Mrs. Jumbo coming in to save her baby, but after the destruction of his tent, Max has no choice but to sell her back without her child. With a change of heart, in thanks to his children showing him how Dumbo can use his ears to fly, Holt helps to make Dumbo a success so they can buy back his mother. After one newspaper headline-worthy show, the circus is visited by V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who runs a bigger circus the size of Disney World. He buys Dumbo by offering a partnership with Max, and for a moment all seems happy, but there is more that comes with this purchase of the baby elephant.
There’s nothing wrong with the acting, but the screenplay from Ehren Kruger is stuffed with so many unneeded characters that not only do they get lost, but so does Dumbo. At times the story shifts from his struggle to that of Holt, who has a chance to gain his dream of becoming a showman with horses again. None of the humans have any redeeming qualities, which makes it hard to care about them. The daughter is the only one who has any type of interesting story, and after a moment she has with Dumbo, I thought she would take more of a lead in the story, but that opportunity is wasted. Also laid to waste is the mystique of Dumbo. Rather than use his ears and flying as a climax, the movie takes away that excitement by having him fly early on.
This Dumbo strives to thrive from tremendous visuals and a big top score by Danny Elfman. Some of the best scenes are from the point of view of Dumbo. The problem is Tim Burton, who seems, at times, to try to make this movie more about anything else other than the character with the same name as the title. This echoes some of his past work and I was left wondering how again he was able to get Disney to allow him to be at the helm of one of their classic titles. The film makes Dumbo suffer just enough for you to get teary eyed and root for him to win. But at times it’s easy to forget he’s the focus of the story. This newest edition of Disney’s live-action remake of its classics is worthy of a family outing, but for the true enjoyment of Dumbo, go up to the attic and dust off your VHS version.
Struggling circus owner Max Medici enlists a former star and his two children to care for Dumbo, a baby elephant born with oversized ears.