Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito
Synopsis: A young elephant, who's 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.
Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy
MPAA Rating: PG (for peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief mild language)
Runtime: 1 hr 52 min
Release Date: March 29, 2019
The live action remake, especially when it entails a remake from a classic animated film, is one that's been contested by audiences and critics for years, but a seemingly strong trend for future movies for studios. This year alone, Disney is producing three of these, with Dumbo arriving first, followed by Aladdin in May and The Lion King in July.
While certainly not hailed as Disney's best work, the original Dumbo (1941) has retained a following over the years for its irresistibly lovable flying baby elephant, along with his mentor and friend Timothy the mouse. Director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), known for his distinct fantasy stylization, is tasked with remaking and re-imagining the original film.
The tricky balance that needs to be struck with remakes is that you want to deliver the same feelings and emotions from the original, yet tell the story in a different way, ultimately creating a new product and not a simple rehashed version of the original. For this, Burton's Dumbo deservers due credit, as it takes the high road in being different from the original, shifting much more focus on the human characters and away from Dumbo himself, with Timothy the mouse cut from the film altogether. The problem is, the human characters don't have much to offer us. They're largely one dimensional, dull, and receive next to no character growth by the film's end, leaving us feeling empty and unsatisfied.
Because so much of the film is focused on the human characters, Dumbo receives little personality, and ultimately only serves as a cute, large eared and blue-eyed CGI elephant, with no one who truly understands him by his side. Unlike the original film, he is flying only a half hour or so into the film's runtime, as opposed to the final scene, with little buildup for audiences. This not only hampers the story's narrative, but also its characters, leaving little room for either to progress.
The positive about Dumbo is that Burton successfully creates another immersive fantasy world. You can sense the imagination, wonder, and excitement; it's just not fully realized due to the problematic approach from a storytelling perspective. Danny Elfman, who collaborated with Burton previously on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, delivers a score reminiscent of that remake (in a very good way) and heavily aids in communicating the fantastical elements and world of the film.
Though Burton delivers more than strong enough direction, Dumbo ultimately doesn't fly due its weak script and dull human characters, which it valiantly tries to deviate in importance from the original. This shift ends up hurting not only the humans, but also the title character, who is given little characterization. The film should please younger audiences, but has very little to offer any other demographic, which is a shame since there is material here that could've worked had it been better executed from a writing standpoint. Hopefully the live action remakes to come later this year from Disney are able to do a better job at delivering a new product but capturing the essence of the source work.
Written by Anthony Watkins, April 8, 2019