Disney is once again milking the live action teat of some of its all-time greatest hits. This time retelling of the 1941 classic, Dumbo. This show is oozing with a who’s who of big-name celebrities such as Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Michael Keaton, and at the helm for direction is Tim Burton, known for his dark and quirky tales.
Although thankfully not as dark as Burton’s usual style, Dumbo was slightly grimmer than the original movie with a death, fires and scary creatures depicted both realistically and through shadows. For those younger viewers, whom Disney is banking will come out in droves, it might just be too much for them. It carries a PG rating, up from a U from the original, which will bring the kids in, but may not have the effect of children wanting to see it over and over as well as their traditional animated movies do.
For the most part the story is the same; an elephant is born into circus and deemed unfit to perform because of his unusually large ears. The departure for this film is Dumbo has two champions in his corner, Milly and Joe Farrier (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins respectively). They are the young’uns that comfort Dumbo from the day he is born, help him get through being ripped away from his mother, and end up being his trainers once he makes it to the centre ring. Their relationship with Dumbo is by far the most entertaining aspect and tugs at your heart as you watch the three of them interact. Certainly, these two young actors will be ones to watch as this type of film tends to catapult young stars to greatness.
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Disney did a good job of cleaning up the aspects of the old version that could not play in a children’s movie of today, such as the racism and underage elephant drinking, which was even alluded to when Danny DeVito’s character utters: “Keep the alcohol away from the baby.” However, they attempt to keep in the weird trippy scene of the pink elephants, which were created by circus women making gigantic bubbles for an audience that didn’t seemed phased by foams that became giant pink elephants that danced and ate one another.
Dumbo does manage to completely nail the Oscar nominated original ‘Baby Mine’ song, sung this time by the character Miss Atlantis (Sharon Rooney, My Mad Fat Diary) with a ukulele while baby Dumbo sneaks off to cuddle with his mama, who is locked up after her outburst trying to protect her child. Hardcore fans will appreciate the detail given to the scene where baby Dumbo is comforted by his mother through iron bars down to the exact way she caresses his tiny head, by far one of the best moments of the film. For those that have grown up watching this movie and hearing this song, it will surely bring a tear to your eye. The end credits also feature another version performed by Arcade Fire, and it is also done well.
The irony of the whole flick is that Dumbo becomes so famous he and his whole circus is hired by V. A. Vandevere’s (Michael Keaton) ‘stationary circus’ because the days of traveling circuses are over and people will instead flock to one location to be entertained. Sound a little bit too much like Disney World? That’s because it is eerily like it. The park name was changed to Dreamland and had different named areas such as Wonders of Science and Nightmare Island, but the essence was the same: exploit whoever and whatever to make as much money off the consumer as possible. All the way down to the exact Dumbo plush toy that is sold when you attend the park and the creepy intercom voice announcing that an attraction is closed.
Vandevere’s character is so morally corrupt and desperate to make a buck that he has no problem endangering and abusing everyone that can help him and discards those that cannot. Burton was trying to capture an over the top, wildly impressive experience with the park, but instead it seemed to parallel too much. Vandevere is everything that Disney has now become – a company masquerading as a magical place for children, but all they really want is to separate the consumer from their money as fast and as much as possible.
Dumbo has enough adorable moments with the new CGI Dumbo and his big blue eyes to at least make the venture worthwhile. However, Burton somehow fails to give him the sweet, lovable personality that the previous movie had created. With his giant floppy ears and elongated proboscis, children will be screaming for toys and clothing depicting the pachyderm, which for Disney and their live action remakes will be considered a success but it is hardly the rewatchable classic that most of us have seen countless times.