Tim Burton serves as the directorial ringmaster in this 2019 reimagining of Disney’s Dumbo, nearly eighty years after the original film first soared in cinemas. As part of the traveling Medici Circus, Dumbo quickly transcends from freak to fan favorite with his fantastic talent to take flight!
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Ehren Kruger (screenplay), Helen Aberson & Harold Pearl (novel)
Starring: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, and Nico Parker
Rated PG for peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief mild language
Release Date: March 29, 2019
Run-time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
While a good number of critics and movies purists alike continue to thrash about over Disney’s recent stream of live-action remakes, I for one, welcome them with open arms. If you happen to find yourself opposed to these films, then that’s all fine and well, but allow me to respectfully assert that these films perhaps are not meant for you. These films are intended for a younger generation of Disney fans, adapted to reflect modern times and values, while surely striving to serve as a bridge between old and new. For many of my age, the classic films of their childhood may appear to be impervious pieces of cinematic perfection, but I can assure you that they are not. No film nor story is truly ever off-limits or untouchable for long. Skip them if you wish, but I ask you to at least kindly consider the children who will be experiencing these stories for the first time through these remakes, and whose favorite characters may be just the same as yours, only as told through a different frame of time. Even at their worst, these remakes are still likely to pique an interest in the unacquainted in knowing the versions of old. If you ask me, that makes these remakes all worthwhile in the end.
Pardon the preachy prologue but I felt the need to get that off my chest given all of the vitriol that I’ve seen spewed online each time one of these classics is remade. All that aside, let’s dive into my Dumbo review, shall we?
The perversely peculiar Tim Burton serves as the directorial ringmaster in this 2019 reimagining of Dumbo, which sees the return of everyone’s favorite flying elephant, nearly eighty years since the original soared in cinemas. This version of the classic tale begins on the road with the traveling Medici Circus, shortly before the birth of the titular elephant, who is born with comically huge ears. Max Medici is the head of this circus, played by the incomparable Danny DeVito, and he’s completely dismayed by this abnormal creature, in spite of the fact that his own circus troupe is filled with similarly freakish characters. With the help of a couple of curious and open-minded circus kids, the young elephant’s miraculous talent is discovered – the ability to take flight! As Dumbo the flying elephant becomes the hottest ticket around, the kids are tasked with training him through test flights, while the Medici Circus attracts the attention of more affluent investors with promises of a brighter future.
Disney’s 2019 version of Dumbo is a wonderfully awe-inspiring family film that teaches us that it’s okay to be different. It’s an exciting and emotional journey that transcends into something truly magical whenever Dumbo takes flight. I admittedly even found myself holding back tears a few times. Perhaps that’s in part due to Danny Elfman’s moving musical score, but I believe it can mostly be attributed to Burton’s whimsical direction. Burton is right at home here and was the perfect pick to direct, but I should note that even though the film is centered around the circus, it isn’t nearly as weird as most of his other works. While I was eagerly anticipating Burton’s vision of the original film’s infamously psychedelic Pink Elephants on Parade scene, I have to confess I felt slightly disappointed by how severely it was downplayed in this live-action adaptation. Thankfully it still manages to effectively stir up some emotion prior to a pivotal scene, but it’s more along the lines of a fleeting tribute than a recreation. The same can be said about several other scenes from the original film, but rightfully so considering some of its more controversial components certainly wouldn’t fly today.
Dumbo features a star-studded cast which includes some familiar faces from past Burton films. Danny DeVito as Medici is delightfully entertaining in a way that only he can be. Colin Farrell plays Holt Ferrier, a star horse wrangler who works for Medici and has just returned home from war. Burton’s Batman, Michael Keaton, plays V.A. Vandevere, an entrepreneur with an entire circus-themed amusement park, and he’s joined by his girlfriend Colette, played by Miss Peregrine herself, Eva Green. Overall the performances are proficient, however I found Keaton’s character in particular to be a little hokey. I did quite enjoy Nico Burton’s character Milly, Ferrier’s free-thinking and courageous young daughter. Though I imagine others may find her and the family centered narrative of the film to be somewhat cheesy and annoying. It’s definitely a different change of pace to have this film driven by human characters as opposed to the talking animals of the original, but it’s a change that I personally prefer.
The movie’s production design and special effects are impressive. It’s a pleasant picture to look at, even though it has this very majestic and make-believe quality to it. I enjoyed the sets, the costumes, and the old timey circus aesthetic, even if Vandevere’s extravagant Dreamland circus seemed overly excessive. Dumbo’s expressive appearance was perfectly suited to the film, and I found him to be simply adorable with his larger-than-life ears and personality. They were able to effectively evoke so much character out of him, making him a joy to watch throughout his adventure. My only real gripes with the visuals were some occasionally unnatural looking animations and heavy use of motion blur in a few instances where it seemed entirely unnecessary.
With Dumbo, I think your own enjoyment of the movie is sure to be influenced by your openness to these Disney remakes overall. I imagine most of the people who won’t like it were already against it from the very beginning. Those of you with an open-mind to it are likely to find this to be a pleasant and empowering experience that not only adequately pays respects to the original, but also addresses culturally relevant concepts, and presents them with a much grander scale. To the rest of you, I suggest you leave your baggage at the door, because this train won’t be stopping any time soon, so either move out of the way, or come on aboard and allow yourself to live vicariously as a child once more.
Lastly, I just want to state that I don’t really remember the original Dumbo all that well. The last time I saw it must have been decades ago when I was still a child. However, watching this new take of Dumbo makes me all the more interested in going back and seeing the original once again, and when it comes to these remakes, isn’t that the point?
5 Minute Movie Guy