So far, Disney has batted a thousand with live-action remakes of their animated classics. Everything from “Cinderella” to “The Jungle Book” to “Beauty and the Beast” has been given this treatment, so does “Dumbo” belong in the same league?
In short, just barely.
Tim Burton helms this version of the Disney classic despite it not really having the typical trappings that Burton is famous for. Instead of really having a Gothic, haunting quality, Burton chooses a more lighter, brighter feel. Nevertheless, it does have moments where it flies high.
It stars Colin Farrell as a WWI soldier returning home to Florida in 1919 to he with his motherless children and to rejoin the circus he was a part of before the war. Danny DeVito plays the manager of the circus who are down on their luck due to financial difficulties.
Their fortunes soon change when their star elephant gives birth to a baby boy who turns out to be, you guessed it, Dumbo. They soon discover Dumbo has the unique ability to fly because of his massive ears and they hope that this might be their ticket to the big leagues once again.
The circus soon attracts the attention of a greedy entrepreneur (Michael Keaton) and his voluptuous assistant (Eva Green). They own a theme park called Dreamland and are willing to do whatever it takes to make Dumbo their major attraction.
The late Gene Siskel once said that he was interviewed by Steven Spielberg who gave him an insight into movie creatures: “You relate to their eyes,” he said. In this case, Dumbo is expressive even with the Tim Burton signatures, but he’s even more expressive and convincing once he’s in the air.
Of course, Burton does work with past alumni such as Keaton, DeVito,and Green as well as Farrell for the first time. The actors do inhabit their roles with relative ease and do act like they are a part of the world Burton has devised instead of just traipsing through it.
One of its weaknesses is that it deliberately goes for some bittersweet moments that sometimes hit their mark and other times, falls short. Not to mention, the original 1941 film on my had a runtime of 64 minutes and at 112 minutes, this remake does what it can to add padding on an already simplistic story and also gives us a pretty jumbled climax that would be more at home in today’s typical special effects extravaganza as opposed to capturing the classic whimsy.
Like some of Burton’s more recent efforts, I admire it more for being visually appealing than I did as a story. This is not a major Burton film nor is it a completely memorable remake, but it does have enough elements to hold it together.
Let’s just hope “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” can soar higher.
(Rated PG for peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief mild language.)