A young elephant, whose oversized ears enable him to fly, helps save a struggling circus, but when the circus plans a new venture, Dumbo and his friends discover dark secrets beneath its shiny veneer.
Disney’s attempts to re-adapt all of their animated classics into live action continues at pace with ‘Dumbo’ the latest to arrive off the assembly line. The original ‘Dumbo’ was one of Disney’s first films, originally released in 1941, and its story of a young elephant who was ridiculed for his big ears resonated with audience’s young and old alike. The live action adaptations of Disney’s extensive filmography have mostly been successful to date, and they’ve generally followed the same story as their sources, however ‘Dumbo’ is the first to significantly reimagine the source material to create a slightly different film. In making these changes this version of ‘Dumbo’ loses a lot of what made the original tick, namely the focus on Dumbo and the fellow animals at the circus, with the human characters more central to the plot this time around.
The film is directed by Tim Burton and his visual style is well suited to a story set primarily in a circus and a fairground, and like many Burton films the narrative doesn’t always match up the production design and the visual palette. Several key characters are introduced at the beginning besides the titular character himself, namely Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), an amputated WW1 veteran and his two children (Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins), and Max Medici, the circus ringmaster played by Danny DeVito at his most ‘Danny DeVito’. Michael Keaton turns up half way through as a ruthless entrepreneur determined to use Dumbo for his own means, and there are also turns from Eva Green as a trapeze artist and Alan Arkin as a banker. Whilst it’s fun to see Burton gather a lot of his finest collaborators together (including a ‘Batman Returns’ reunion between Keaton and DeVito), the time spent with all these human characters is at the expense of both Dumbo’s character arc, which feels strangely secondary in a film holding his name, and the film’s pacing which is too long and stretches the story out more than necessary.
Special effects are so good now that the CGI Dumbo looks as realistic as a flying elephant can look, and he’s as suitably cute as the original, and the film also features one of Danny Elfman’s best recent scores – the jangly, orchestral work is reminiscent at times of the scenes in ‘Edward Scissorhands’ where the titular character is created. I think the main issue with this version of ‘Dumbo’ is that in trying to expand the scope of the film, it loses a lot of what made the original film so memorable. The 1941 film is simple, whimsical and full of heart, and this version loses sight of that as it adds in subplots to the detriment of the overall experience. I enjoyed aspects of ‘Dumbo’ but given the talent involved it didn’t meet my expectations.
Directed By: Tim Burton
Starring: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Roshan Seth, DeObia Oparei, Joseph Gatt, Sharon Rooney and Michael Buffer