We went to a media preview of the Tim Burton live action re-imagining of Dumbo. The original 1941 animated film is one of Disney’s most beloved classics, and I knew this one would be quite different. None of the live-action remakes have been as enjoyable or memorable for me as their animated counterparts, though I’ve enjoyed several including Cinderella, Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast. The previews for the live action Dumbo film were of interest to me, reminding me a little in style of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. But Dumbo never soars, and the first 45 or so minutes are overall pretty dull. I also don’t find this a film for young kids for various reasons.
Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns from World War I and apparently learns his wife has died – it seemed he did not know this ahead of time, but I couldn’t fully tell based on a lack of emotion or surprise. He also has lost an arm. Farrier and his wife had worked for the circus and have two children, and he comes back to the Medici Brothers Circus after his war stint. Instead of being tapped to ride, Farrier and his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) care for the baby elephant eventually named Dumbo. Dumbo is separated from Mrs. Jumbo early in the film, with some animal abuse present. Generally, the movie is dark throughout and often somewhat depressing with little levity, though occasionally Max Medici (Danny DeVito) has some funny lines. The enthusiasm of the circus owner often feels a little too big though for a movie that plods along for a large chunk of time. Dumbo as a character is fairly lifelike and adorable, although he is mocked for his big ears and humiliated in various ways.
Dumbo can fly if he has a feather, and there are other nods to the animated original including Casey Jr., Timothy Q. Mouse and the storks in very small ways in the film. “Baby Mine” is also sung at one point, but it wasn’t emotional for me – I didn’t feel any real tug on my heart during the entire movie, unlike the animated film where I have tears when I watch.
When entrepeneur and amusement park owner V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) gets wind of the flying elephant, he visits Medici and makes him an offer he can’t refuse. The kids hope eventually any money made will rescue Mrs. Jumbo so she can be reunited with Dumbo. They all set off for Dreamland, which is where the movie picks up some – at least in comparison to the first part. Dreamland is way bigger than the Medici circus could have ever been, it is just bigger than life. The production even goes all Busby Berkeley for a number or two. Colette (Eva Green) is a trapeze artist tapped to be part of a routine with Dumbo. I thought these sequences were interesting and enjoyable enough.
The film fully goes off the rails for me when a main character destroys everything he worked hard for against the advice of another character. He could have waited just a minute to be able to save everything, and for some weird reason he chooses not to. It makes no sense.
I already knew the general ending due to a book I read for review a month or so back. The live action film ending is completely different than the animated film, which is all I will say about it. What I will say is that we had booked a theater showing with our AMC A-List to watch it again and ended up canceling. While I will watch Dumbo again on home video, we didn’t feel a need to revisit it again so soon. It would also be nice to see fewer animated movies retold in live action form – there are a total of four this year. Not every animated film needs to be remade.
Mousesteps grade for Dumbo: C-
We don’t advise the film for small children.