DIRECTOR: tim burton (edward scissorhands, alice in wonderland)
STARRING: colin farrell, danny de vito, michael keaton, and eva green
REVIEWER: lyall carter
A young elephant, whose 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.
One of the arguments (which I don't think is especially strong) against Disney live action remakes is that films like Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella are an almost shot for shot remake of the original animated versions with very little changed. Dumbo on the other hand has added a whole second half to the original story but unfortunately the results are a little mixed.
Struggling circus owner Max Medici enlists a former star and his two children to care for Dumbo, a baby elephant born with oversized ears. When the family discovers that the animal can fly, it soon becomes the main attraction - bringing in huge audiences and revitalising the run-down circus. The elephant's magical ability also draws the attention of V.A. Vandevere, an entrepreneur who wants to showcase Dumbo in his latest, larger-than-life entertainment venture.
The three things that I remember from the 1941 animated Dumbo was the Casey Jr. song, the friendship between Dumbo and Timothy the mouse, and that it was really REALLY sad. All three of those elements are missing from this live action adaption and their absence impacts the overall film to a varying degree.
The first half of the film is basically the whole original film and the second half, where they all head off to V.A. Vandevere's entertainment multiplex, is all brand new stuff. The firm centrepiece of the story is Holt, a former horse stunt rider who has returned from war to his children who all live in Medici's circus.
Now here is where it gets tricky. The film makers, for whatever reason, chose for the animals not to be at the heart of the film (Timothy has a little cameo but doesn't speak.) As a consequence Holt and his family are promoted to being the primary emotional heartbeat of the film.
Unfortunately it doesn't quite work. When Dumbo is separated from his mum, when he's teased for his appearance, and when he finally manages to fly it doesn't give the emotional punch that it should. That's because so much time is spent establishing the Holt family story that little emotional building is done around Dumbo's character. Its like theres two stories competing for your heart and neither truly wins.
But there's great stuff here. The story really is enjoyable and Dumbo looks absolutely superb - this CGI creation is the epitome of cute. Although for a Tim Burton film the set decoration and styling are slightly subdued, there are some very Burtonesque flourishes and feel to the film.
Farrell is earnest and the two child actors are great - especially Nico Parker (Thandie Newton's daughter). Eva Green has a significant supporting role and De Vito is delightfully droll but Keaton's performance seemed a little jarring. One moment he was almost a pantomime villain the next a sophisticated businessman.
Takes a while to take flight and doesn't quite pack the expected emotional punch, but Dumbo is still a pretty fun ride.