Friday Film Review - "Dumbo"

Mar 29, 2019

Are you ready to believe—again—that an elephant can fly? A new version of “Dumbo” is hitting theaters, nearly 80 years after the original. It’s likable, but it also comes from that new Disney attraction—Remake Mountain.

Director Tim Burton, who began his career working for the Disney Studios, is now helming this new version of their 1941 classic “Dumbo.”

Burton doesn’t always succeed at re-makes. But he’s comfortable recreating America in 1919, when fleabag circuses rattled around on the rails from one mid-sized city and hamlet to another.

This is a live-action film, but with hybrid elements. So, a real Danny DeVito, as the lovable Max Medici, head of the Medici Brothers Circus, is flummoxed when his newest acquisition, Mrs. Jumbo, gives birth to a computer-generated freaky baby with huge ears.  

Poor little Dumbo needs a friend, but Timothy Q. Mouse isn’t around anymore. So, he gets- a fairly standard troubled Disney movie family. A plucky young sister and brother living with the circus (played by Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins) have lost their mother in the recent flu epidemic.  

Their father (played by Colin Farrell) comes back from the Great War minus an arm, though he has been fitted with an artificial—Texas accent. In the fairly predictable script by Ehren Kruger, he’s a good guy, but he can’t figure out to cope with Single-Dad hood—especially when his daughter turns out to be this season’s Disney heroine.     She’s a brainy kid, more interested in science experiments than the trapeze (but as played by Parker, is gravely charming.)

The original “Dumbo” was barely over an hour long, and the story focused on Dumbo finding his special talent, and acceptance, within his little circus world.

This time around, there’s an added plot, as the Medici Circus is bought out by a double-dealing impresario V. A. Vandevere played by Michael Keaton. His amusement park, Dreamland, shows the Modern Age that’s coming. It’s Coney Island on steroids—big, bright, loud, mechanized. It’s star attraction, Dumbo, is quickly merchandized as a Kewpie doll. It almost reminds you of ---Hmmm.

I could almost believe that corporate Disney is showing some disgust with itself—except that the entire movie is part of the studio’s effort to squeeze more money out of their animated classics with live-action remakes.

For fans of Tim Burton’s Batman films, it’s kinda fun to see Danny DeVito and Michael Keaton together again.    Only this time Keaton is the bad guy—who fires all the lovable freaks and clowns from the Medici Circus, and plots to take Dumbo’s mom for a ride.      This sets up the big action climax—Let’s save the Creature! —familiar from “E. T.” and “Mighty Joe Young.”

The film refers to several classic moments or songs from the original.     And yes, Dumbo reaching out with his little trunk to Mom, who’s been shackled as a mad elephant, with “Baby Mine” playing in the background—is still a six-hanky moment, but not as effective as the 1941 version.

The most dated characters of the first film—the jive-talking black crows, have been dropped completely. In their place, we get some new dated characters. The ringmaster in Keaton’s circus is played by announcer Michael “Let’s get ready to rumble” Buffer.”

But because I’m still a sucker for a Tim Burton fairy tale, with Danny Elfman music, and I can’t resist an elephant with big watery sad eyes—even from a computer--I’ll let Tinker Bell give this three stars out of five.