Dumbo**** (4 Stars)
- USA 2019
- Opening: 03/28/19
- Directed by: Tim Burton
- Writing credits: Ehren Kruger
- Principal actors: Danny DeVito, Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Eva Green
In Disney‘s effort to turn its fantastic animated classics into real live action features, it’s now Dumbo’s turn, following the Jungle Book, Sleeping Beauty (Maleficent), Beauty and the Beast and others.
Dumbo is born into the circus of Max Medici (Danny DeVito), in a time when having the circus in town was the highlight of every children’s year. Yet, sales have been staggering and Max is relying on this baby elephant to draw a bigger audience into the circus tent. Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), whose circus horses had to be sold while he was serving in the war, is now responsible to make the elephant show a spectacle. When it turns out that the most spectacular thing about Dumbo are his “jumbo” ears, with “a face only a mother could love”, Dumbo is reassigned to the Clown’s brigade.
Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), Hold’s children discover that the pachyderm can actually fly with his big floor-dropping ears and take care of being his trusted friends in the adventures to come when the sneaky businessman Vandavere (Michael Keaton) arrives, bringing the prospect of a fabulous life for all the circus buddies to perform in his extravagant “Dreamland” on Cony Island, while Dumbo is supposed to be the main attraction there.
What to expect
When you go to see a Tim Burton, you get a Tim Burton, with all it entails. You get the darkness, the melancholic mood, you get a fantastic Elfman score, exaggerated backdrops created in amazing detail with futuristic flair and his who-is-who favorite actor-portfolio. Dumbo is Burton brilliance par excellence.
The original Dumbo from 1941 (selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2017) is a very sad story about an isolated baby elephant, parted from his mother and so terribly naïve, and only the sidekick mouse Timothy being his friend, protecting him from the evil world, or better, evil people.
In the new live-action adaption, the negative sentiment is fabulously translated into 2019, and the colors and its atmosphere fill up with a gasp of darkness. From the beginning on we feel that Dumbo is not a happy film.
Many references to the 1940’s Dumbo have been developed to fantastic, visually and audibly exciting fire crackers, like the mysterious pink bubble scene, or Danny Elfman’s nod to recurring soundtrack pieces from the Academy Award winning score of ’41.
Is Dumbo still my Baby mine?
An essential idea to make Disney’s new remakes worth being retold in a new format is to give it more depth, more insight to the psychology of the protagonists, than the original mere cartoons could have achieved, especially with 1941’s Dumbo only being 1h long.
Therefore, we are introduced to the Farrier Family, who will be Dumbo’s trusted friends. However, their family story does not tickle enough sympathy for us to want to share the screen time between Dumbo and Colin Farrell.
The plots around Baby Dumbo and his Mother, Mrs. Jumbo, and the one with the struggling real people seem to compete with each other, especially in the first half of the movie. Dumbo’s more moving story seems to be demoted to the sideshow of this circus. Too bad, we came to see the baby trunk.
The people in Dumbo’s life are seemingly true friends, but when everyone roots for Dumbo and exclaims very positively and Instagram #motivationmonday-worthy: “You can do it” or “believe in yourself”, it cripples to their own fear and hopes Dumbo could fulfill, not for the sake of the little cutie-pie himself, but for their own personal advantage. Also, Disney’s attempt at giving us a lesson on animal-cruelty, does not pan out as well as they were probably hoping for.
So, what’s the deal?
A visually spectacular event, everything a Tim Burton promises, this elephant delivers, however, though I was so ready to give this long-anticipated film 5 Stars, the undeveloped, human story, promising us that a couple of good words and good intentions can make this world a better place seem too forced to be a real Disney-heart warmer.
You will gasp, you will root for little Dumbo 2019 as I have, and you might even shed a tear or two – but I didn’t. Sadly, at least one tear is essential in the recipe of the full Disney magic experience.