You’ve seen a horse fly, a dragon fly, and even a house fly. And now that they’ve remade the classic 1941 Disney film Dumbo, you can see an elephant fly, in glorious live action.
And how is it? Honestly, it’s pretty much the same as watching any novelty act: it suffers from the law of diminishing returns. The first time you see an elephant take to the sky, it’s magnificent. By the time you’ve gone through four or five scenes of this same thing though, its effect becomes a little bit diluted.
Directed by Tim Burton, Dumbo will probably really win over young viewers with its wonderful visuals and colourful characters. Other viewers, however, may find it a little over-stuffed and hollow. While the film certainly has it’s shining moments, many of them are buried in a complicated and rather predictable plot.
Dumbo begins with a scene of circus rider turned soldier Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returning from the war. His children Joe and Milly (Finley Hobbins and Nico Parker) go to meet him, and are shocked to see he has lost an arm. The three return to the Medici Circus, where they once lived, and Holt is dismayed to see most of the performers, who were his friends, have now left. He also has to deal with the death of his wife.
Wow. That is the most depressing beginning to a children’s movie, live ever. Long story short, Holt ends up taking care of the circus’s new attraction, a pregnant Asian elephant. Her baby is born with ridiculously large ears, making him look freakish.
Thankfully, this is a circus, where freakishness is celebrated. Oh wait sorry. That was The Greatest Showman. In this circus, which already features several freak performers, Dumbo is mocked mercilessly. This comes across as a little contrived for drama’s sake. Long story short however, Holt and his kids discover Dumbo has the gift of flight, and the little elephant becomes a star. This soon draws the attention of Vandervere (Michael Keaton), a greedy tycoon who wants Dumbo as the star of Dreamland, his new theme park.
So yeah, it’s a huge expansion of the original story. The film has quite a few homages to the original Dumbo: there are references to Timothy the mouse and even a performance of the psychedelic song Pink Elephants On Parade. And yes, there’s a rendition of Baby Mine, one of the most heartbreaking tunes from a Disney movie ever: here, however, it’s performance lacks a bit of an oomph.
As mentioned, the film’s visuals are great, and the scenes of Dumbo flying are lovely, although they start to lose impact after happening repeatedly. And the performances are generally good: Farrell does a nice job, as does Keaton, although his Vandevere feels a little like a one note villain. Eva Green is a little wasted as Colette, an aerial performer. But the film’s true MVP is Danny DeVito, who plays the money-hungry ringmaster Max Medici: every scene he is in is comedic gold.
Dumbo sometimes feels a little unfocused, with its plot switching between the stories of Holt, his children, Vandevere, Medici, and the carnival’s freaks (it’s a Tim Burton movie, of course there needs to be a group of quirky misfits). Dumbo feels like a side character in his own movie. Worst of all, the film’s emotional scenes seem to be glossed over very quickly, making Dumbo feel a little emotionally lacking. Like the Dreamland featured in the show, the film feels very big and flashy, but lacks sincerity and heart.
Overall, Dumbo is probably in the lower tier of Disney live action film adaptations. It’s not a bad watch, and it’s pretty entertaining at times, but ultimately, feels like it could have been better. Maybe they should have just kept to the cartoon version. This new one is definitely ambitious, but suffers a little from failure to launch.
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton