I’m not sure how I feel yet about Disney’s apparent need to revisit their classic animated films and turn them into live-action films with computer-generated animation. Are they worried that the relevance of their classic films has reached an end and want to revitalize what they see as diminishing returns on them?
I’m not sure. I think that’s a discussion for another day, and there’s always the statement that if you don’t want to watch it then stick with the classic.
This time around, it’s Tim Burton bringing an updated version of a classic animated film to the screen. Using moments, musical motifs, visual nods, and one classic song, Burton brings Dumbo, the flying elephant into the 21st century, with this take.
It opens enjoyably, and is possibly one of Burton’s most colorful and enjoyable exercises in recent years, because it doesn’t feel like a Tim Burton film for the first half. We are introduced to a circus community, led by Max Medici (Danny DeVito in a delightfully comic performance). He’s just invested in a pregnant elephant, and is hoping that the freshly returned from war, Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) and his children will be able to look after the animal.
This is a step down for Holt as he used to be a star attraction, but the cost of the war at the front and at home have taken a toll, and this is the best he can hope for now. But, he hopes and believes that he can be more.
And so do his children. His son, Joe (Finley Hobbins) has big plans, juggling, and standing on his head, while Milly (Nico Parker) is striving to be a scientist, and it is the scientific method that is applied when little baby Jumbo comes along, along with a pair of over-sized ears.
From there, there are nods to the original film (including a little mouse dressed up like Timothy, feathers, clowns, a fire rescue, and a mother-baby relationship that warms the heart and mists the eyes) and all of it catches the attention of V.A. Vandevere (Micheal Keaton), who with the aerial artist Colette (Eva Green) in tow plans to buy the Medici troupe… to get his hands on Jumbo, christened Dumbo after a fumbled performance.
It’s at this point that Dumbo looks like a Tim Burton film, the neo-gothic art deco style that permeates his set and costume design appears with Vandevere’s theme park, Dreamland – and this time it lets us know from the off that something is wrong here, but I was a little bummed to see such typical Burton designs. But it also gives us a fun nod to the nightmarish Pink Elephants on Parade as well.
That being said, the emotional heart of the film rests easily with Farrell, and a computer generated flying elephant, and it largely works, as both they, and a number of the other characters learn to believe in themselves, and that will make the impossible possible.
There’s a nice through line for Dumbo in this film, and you know the film won’t end until it all plays out. In fact, there’s no real question about how the film is going to end, but the journey to get there, with Casey Junior and Baby Mine echoing in your head, is well worth taking.
This one is not only suitable for families, but recommended for them, and I honestly feel that there is something for everyone in this iteration. And Danny DeVito seems to steal every scene he is in…
Check out Dumbo in theaters today!