“Dumbo” stars Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, and Alan Arkin. Released on March 29, 2019, the film is about a former circus star who raises a baby elephant with huge ears.
The film is directed by Tim Burton, who also directed films such as “Beetlejuice”, “Batman”, “Big Fish”, and “Big Eyes”. It is loosely inspired by the 1941 animated film of the same name, and it is based on the novel of the same name by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl. People have been using the phrase, “when pigs fly”, for who knows how long, but for some reason, no one ever thought about using the phrase, “when elephants fly”. Weird. Disney is cranking up some more live-action retellings of their animated treasures this year. Seriously, there’s like at least four of them coming out in the same year. That’s more than one per year. So, let’s get this party started with a reimagining of an animated gem that made everyone believe that an elephant can fly. “Dumbo” is one of the films from Disney that I remembered watching during my childhood. Despite not seeing it in a long time, there were actually plenty of things that I happened to recall, such as the title character, the “Baby Mine” sequence, the pink elephants, and the crows. So I was very interested in seeing how Disney and Tim Burton are going to translate an hour long cartoon about a baby pachyderm with big ears into a live-action fantasy drama. With that in mind, let’s see if this latest remake was able to soar.
The major difference between the animated version from 1941 and the live-action remake is the story. Rather than retell the tale of “Dumbo” from the perspective of the circus animals like the 1941 version, Disney decided to represent a whole new story from the humans’ point of view, with the title character being served as a secondary character. However, the main message is still the same, which is the celebration of being different. Using one’s own disabilities to become the best version of one’s self and prove the nay-sayers wrong. Unfortunately, the film focused a bit too much on showing how adorable Dumbo is rather than tell an in-depth story that matches the importance of its central theme. I guess I was expecting it to be Disney’s answer to “The Greatest Showman”, which is another circus-themed film that celebrates people’s differences. The main reason why would have to be the characters. With Dumbo being a side character, the film would have to work wonders in making the human characters as caring and thoughtful as the big-eared elephant. The entire cast showed some effort in making them enjoyable for me to watch, with Danny DeVito being one of my personal highlights, but they weren’t able to find the right spark to wow its entire audience, mostly due to Ehren Kruger’s troublesome screenplay. I also thought Colin Farrell did a decent job with his role as Holt Farrier, a World War I veteran who is hired to care for Dumbo. As much as I enjoyed Michael Keaton in his other films, especially the ones helmed by Burton, I felt that his performance as V.A. Vandevere was simply tame compared to his classic roles. It doesn’t help that his character is a by-the-numbers “villain” who cares more about making money. But wait a minute, what about the two young actors (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins) who played Holt’s kids? Well, they’re not exactly astounding, but I wouldn’t say that they’re terrible because I’m not a heartless monster. They’re completely likable in their roles. My only issue with their performances was that they’re not “expressive” enough, especially Parker as Milly. By “expressive”, I mean that I didn’t believe their reactions towards certain situations, such as an elephant that can fly. I’m guessing that the direction was to blame. Speaking of direction, I had to admit that Tim Burton did wonders in crafting a dream-like circus world in his own image in terms of the visual effects and production design as well as recreating some of the classic moments from the animated version, such as the “Baby Mine” scene. That scene alone had to be one of my favorite moments of the film. Did I mention that the CGI Dumbo is as adorable as the 2D animated Dumbo? If not, then I’ll say it now before I forget. The CGI Dumbo is as adorable as the 2D animated Dumbo. Not kidding. Another thing I would like to mention is that the film had a couple of scenes that can be a bit scary for young kids. Then again, the animated version had a couple of scary scenes as well. Still, make sure you take this as a precaution. There were also some scenes that slowed down the pacing a little bit, which might not bold well for kids with short attention spans.
Overall, Tim Burton’s take on “Dumbo” is visually irresistible and undeniably cute, but they’re not enough to make it soar high into the clouds. Despite the presence of its enjoyable cast and its impressive use of CGI, the film’s screenplay and characters failed to make this circus a complete success. It’s not the weakest film in Disney’s “live-action/CGI retelling” library I’ve seen so far (that honor still belongs to “The Nutcracker”), but I did feel a bit disappointed with how it turned out. It’s worth a watch if you have fond memories with the original and Burton’s other works, but don’t expect it to be like the animated version.