Dumbo (2019)

It’s not always about Dumbo, but he still flies.

The 1941 Disney classic “Dumbo” may have lasted for only an hour, but it still took a lot of imagination to bring to life an elephant with big floppy ears. It was colorful in its animation, especially the “Pink Elephants on Parade” hallucination number, it won the Oscar for Best Original Score, and it offered a fresh friendship between Dumbo the elephant and Timothy the mouse.

Tim Burton’s latest remake of that film isn’t as awe-inspiring or imaginative as the classic, but it still offers an outsider’s persona that the filmmaker usually offers (“Batman,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” etc.). And it’s not just about the elephant. It’s also features a circus star losing his left arm after World War 1, and his two kids: one’s smart and the other is flexible.

The story takes place in 1919, where we see Casey Jr. pulling the Medici Bros. Circus to its next stop. The owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) is in a financial crisis, because his best stars have died of an illness, and his best star Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) now only has one arm. He, too, lost his love to the illness. Medici buys a mother elephant named Jumbo, who is going into labor (No thanks to Mr. Stork). She gives birth to Baby Jumbo, who is deemed a freak, because of his big floppy ears.

That’s when we get to know Holt’s two kids. The eldest is Millie (Nico Parker), who doesn’t want to exploit herself as a circus star. Instead, she plans to be a scientist, and prove to everyone she’s an independent woman. And there youngest is Joe (Finley Hobbins), who decides to train Baby Jumbo with a feather, and that’s how he flies.

You know these parts. The circus fans tease Baby Jumbo, by calling him Dumbo, and Mama Jumbo attacks them, thus branding her a “Mad Elephant.” And when Dumbo flies in the next show, he’s immediately made into a star. That’s when circus entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) decides to invite Medici and his family to his circus. A little “Batman Returns” reunion for Burton, Keaton, and DeVito. Only thing is Keaton plays the bad guy.

“Dumbo” is the next Disney film to get a remake, following the success of “Cinderella,” “The Jungle Book,” and “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s not as open-minded as those films, because of the cynicism aimed against the elephant and human characters, and because the bubble version of “Pink Elephants on Parade” isn’t as wondrous as the original.

But what works about the movie are the special effects, the actors, and Burton’s attempts to understand a different elephant, even if he is played by small actors and special effects. Parker and Hobbins are both wonderful as the kids in the ways they care about Dumbo, and how they want to prove to everyone that they aren’t just kids. I always believe that people should listen to children, because they’re smart, and I always get irritated when they don’t. This movie wants to prove my hypothesis.

And you also get some fine work from Farrell, DeVito, and Keaton, and a marvelous supporting role from Eva Green as a French trapeze artist. She isn’t given the bad guy’s assistant cliches; she’s a confident woman. This remake deserves more confidence in its characters, but at least, it’s about learning to gain some.


Categories: Family, Fantasy, Remake

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