Walt Disney Studios continues its new trend of live-action remakes in 2019. Like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Jungle Book,” the 1941 animated classic “Dumbo” is getting the same treatment, except this time it has the legendary Tim Burton in the director’s chair. So, what happens when you pair one of the most wholesome animated films with the man who gave us “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Beetlejuice,” and other dark films? Well, you get what is quite possibly his most tame film ever.
“Dumbo” takes place in 1919 as Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), a war veteran and amputee, returns to his old job at the Medici Brothers’ Circus, run by ringmaster Max Medici (Danny DeVito). Unfortunately, due to his injury and the circus’ financial issues, Holt is given a new job as the caretaker of Medici’s newest attraction, a pregnant elephant named Jumbo. While the mother gives birth to a healthy calf, it’s soon shunned when it’s revealed the baby has unusually large ears and is dubbed Dumbo as a joke. Because of peoples’ constant insults toward Dumbo, his mother goes on a rampage, leading to the death of one employee, and Dumbo’s mother being taken away.
While Medici and Farrier try to salvage the show and figure out what to do with Dumbo, Farrier’s children soon form a bond with the young calf and discover his potential when he displays the ability to fly with his enormous ears—so long as he has a feather. By putting the flying elephant’s talent in the show, the children hope to raise the money needed to get Dumbo’s mother back. However, their plans might be put in jeopardy when they meet theme park owner V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), and French trapeze artist Colette Marchant (Eva Green), who offer a new venture for the circus and its rising star. The film also features Alan Arkin.
The tale of “Dumbo” has a fascinating history behind it. The original animated film is based on the 1939 children’s story “Dumbo, the Flying Elephant,” by Helen Aberson and her husband Harold Pearl. Some out there might be wondering why they have never seen or heard of this book before? Well, while the couple was able to sell the book for publication to a company called Roll-A-Book, for whatever reason, it was never published, and now only a few rare copies of the original book exist out there. Despite such a setback, the couple was able to get their tale out another way after selling their story and illustrations to Walt Disney Studios; which was eventually turned into the 1941 animated classic “Dumbo.” And believe it or not, the film was a blessing in disguise for Disney as the film’s success helped the company recoup its financial losses after the poor box office results of “Fantasia.”
Coming back to the 2019 remake, this film has been receiving mixed to almost negative reviews since its release. As for where my opinion falls, while I found it to be okay, I can understand why certain viewers have problems with it. To begin, anyone familiar with the original film can already tell that the new one has made a number of changes to the story, most notably, the addition of human characters and no talking animals. In the remake’s defense, I can kind of understand why there needed to be changes, considering the original 1941 film was only around an hour long—making it Disney’s shortest animated feature film—and these days a film being anything less than an hour and a half long is considered ludicrous. So, in order to make it to a full feature length, more material needed to be added.
While I found some of the human scenes ranged from okay, to kind of bland, Danny DeVito and Eva Green both were great whenever they’re on screen. Mr. DeVito I believe needs no introduction. Whether it’s a big or small role, he’s always funny in whatever he’s in. As for Eva Green, though her role in the movie was brief compared to the rest of the cast, her interactions with Farrier’s family and Dumbo were, I’m ashamed to admit, kind of charming and adorable. Even Dumbo himself was cute to look at, and the animation on him was well put together. Some critics found Dumbo’s design a bit too cartoony for an elephant, but to them, I say what do you expect from a live-action cartoon about a flying elephant?
“Dumbo” is rated PG for peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief mild language. Despite some flaws in the writing, and the tame nature of a film created by the wild imagination of Tim Burton, this was a fair and pleasant movie. It’s not bad or great, but it has enough to be funny and cute, and it’s definitely a film I can see kids being entertained by. And at the end of the day, that’s what counts for a children’s film. Which is why the final score for “Dumbo” is a 7 out of 10.