Greetings my Movie Geeks!
Dumbo follows Holt Farrier (Farrell) as he returns to the Medici Brothers Circus after the Great War. Holt is an equestrian performer who has lost his arm during the war.
He returns to the circus and his children after the death of his wife, who succumbed to the influenza outbreak of 1918. The circus is also failing and Medici (DeVito) is just looking for any way to give bring the circus back to life.
There’s also an elephant that Medici has bought that is pregnant, and later gives birth to our titular character Jumbo Jr aka DUMBO.
Before we get into this short review, I will just outline my thoughts on the original.
Dumbo is an animated Disney Movie from 1941; it spans the whopping runtime of 62 minutes. This film follows the life of Jumbo Jr, who is born with extremely large ears, that the humans of the circus see as being hilarious or ugly. What’s interesting about this film is that the majority of the humans involved are either bystanders or background characters. They have complete control over Dumbo, but the main focus is on the animals. Dumbo doesn’t speak and the majority of the story is pushed forward by Dumbo’s friend, mentor and Protector Timothy Q Mouse.
After an incident during an elephant pyramid collapsing the big top, Dumbo is relegated to one of the clowns and shunned by the rest of the elephants. Dejected, Dumbo is taken to see his mother and on the way back get hiccups so is given some water, but Champagne has been dropped in the bucket and Timothy Q Mouse and Dumbo get wasted!
They wake in a tree and discover those massive ears can make Dumbo fly. He flies for the circus; they get rich and are raised as the highlight of the circus. Then the film ends.
It’s a harrowing film of sadness and pain and as such the best director to make a live action movie of this is Tim Burton.
Animated to Live-Action
This movie is awful. It’s basically a story of how a man, who can’t talk to his kids, is able to bridge the relationship between them after the death of his wife. It also has an oddly veiled Walt Disney styled villainous amusement park owner who wants Dumbo for his show. I may be wrong, but it was clear to me that Dreamland is a thinly veiled Disneyland stand-in. Correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t know how Burton got away with it.
The film follows, or at least glances at a distance the story beats of the original animated film. But the clear focus is on the Farrier family and the Medici Circus troupe.
Batman Returns Reunion
Michael Keaton plays V.A Vandavere the ruthless entrepreneur and amusement park owner who wants to own Dumbo. He buys the Medici Circus including the troupe, but after the first week fires them all except Medici and the Farriers. Keaton looks as though he’s having fun playing this role and it’s nice to see a Batman Returns reunion, but there’s so little to the story that it just comes off as clichéd. Keaton is just a villain because the film needs a villain.
Stretch that Story
This film is another example of trying to stretch a short story into a big budget film. The runtime is 112 minutes just shy of two hours but you can feel every minute. I was lucky enough to see this in IMAX and I felt myself getting bored. It’s not like this hasn’t been done before and more successfully, it has. I can’t say that I was looking forward to this, as I am not really fond of the original, but with the focus shifting to the human characters I feel they took something away from the story. It’s understandable why they did this as a film solely centred on an unspeaking elephant would be quite difficult for audiences to get behind.
It’s also interesting to see that Timothy Q Mouse is referenced but not really a character and the rest of the animals do not speak.
This confuses me as the second highest grossing Live-Action remake is 2016’s Jungle Book, which had a mix of live-action human and animals communicating. Why not blend the talking elephants and the caring Ferrier family?
Another odd change was the inclusion and shall we say, watered down homage to the Pink Elephants on Parade sequence. As shown earlier it’s a crazy sequence of psychedelic proportions. It gave a transition between sober Dumbo to drunken Dumbo discovering he can fly. It is a little wacky, but it works. Here it is a part of the circus performance before Dumbo showcases his flying ability for the audience of Dreamland. To be honest, it was my favourite part of the film, but again the addition of it in this film is basically for a nod to the original as a way to tick a box.
I had no intention on seeing this film when I heard about it. I went because it was the only film being shown at my local (98.3 miles away) IMAX. I went in with the thought of seeing a big budget movie on IMAX, and I left feeling like it enhanced my experience. But it didn’t do enough to make me enjoy this film fully.
Unfortunately, there was too much working against it. Some of the effects were shaky; including the green screen used was fairly poor especially in the opening circus establishing shots.
Burton’s output has been noticeably low for a long time now, and I wonder how much longer he can go on without being forced to change.
Go see it, let me know what you think and correct me if you think I’m wrong.
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Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito and Eva Green