Starring: Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton
Director: Tim Burton
Running Time: 112 mins
Dumbo is an American film about the story of a baby elephant with big ears that allow him to fly, and his role in the resurrection of a dying circus, although he and his friends soon realise that the big time is not all that it’s cut out to be.
I always seem to think of the original Dumbo as a true classic of Disney, but I’ve never actually thought it’s a particularly good film. Heartfelt and often moving, yes, but it’s also one of the more boring and underwhelming films from the Golden Age of Disney, so I was interested to see what could be done with the story nearly 80 years on.
Disney have been on a real roll with their live-action remakes in recent years, with Cinderella, The Jungle Book and Beauty And The Beast really standing out as big surprises that often surpassed the animated originals. Dumbo, while featuring some of the trademarks of those more successful remakes, is a more underwhelming and disappointing watch, failing to capture the same sense of Disney magic, along with a different take on the story that moves it too far away from the original’s most memorable and moving elements.
The original Dumbo isn’t a masterpiece of storytelling, so it’s good to see that this remake takes a new approach to the story, and attempts to make it a more cinematic tale. After all, The Jungle Book remake was totally different to the original, and was still really rather good, so changing up a classic story doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.
However, the direction that this movie takes is just a little underwhelming. With the exception of the presence of a little elephant who can fly, the film’s main focus is far more heavy on the human characters, with a circus performer (Colin Farrell), his children, and a variety of other personalities playing an arguably bigger role than Dumbo himself.
And their story, for want of a better word, isn’t that interesting. There’s little emotional conflict or intrigue in any of the human leads, and their only real connection to you as the viewer comes through their affection for Dumbo. As a result, the film would likely have worked far better with more focus on Dumbo himself, and less on the humans, simply because they don’t provide the interest, drama or entertainment to really grab you in the same way.
As a simple, throwaway family film, this does its job of being a bright and uplifiting piece, with Tim Burton’s over-the-top style clearly taking a little bit of a back seat for the studio, and for young kids, it’s likely that the more energetic pacing and cinematic nature of this remake will prove more enjoyable than watching the often sluggish original.
However, the biggest problem with this film in comparison to its predecessor is the fact that it really misses the mark when delivering the same emotional power as the original. Disney rightly recognised the weaknesses of the original and removed them from the script, but the all-time classic moments (eg. the pink elephants/the heartbreaking story of Dumbo’s mother) are still there, attempting to replicate their still-powerful emotion.
The difference between this remake and the original, however, is a willingness to go to slightly darker places, something that Disney movies really have never managed to replicate since the Golden Age. The original Dumbo, while underwhelming at times, is a striking dark piece at others, with the pink elephants sequence remaining a haunting memory of my own childhood, and the story of Dumbo’s mother being so cruelly ripped away from him was absolutely devastating.
Here, however, the film is all a little bit too light and bright to ever make those darker ideas work in any particularly striking manner. I felt absolutely nothing from the story of Dumbo and his mother, which is really saying something compared to the original, and the pink elephants sequence is a little inconsequential and forced. As a result, while the movie does manage to prove an often enjoyable and pleasantly light watch, it misses out on the strongest parts of this story, which is a real shame to see.
Finally, the one thing that I have to say I genuinely did love about this film was Dumbo himself. As I said, the story should have been more focused on the little elephant, and for good reason. Not only is he a likable and uplifting lead character, but he’s really, really cute. Normally, CGI ruins a lot of the pure innocence of classic animation (one of the big weaknesses of The Jungle Book remake), but there’s something undeniably about Dumbo here once again, with his big dopey ears and wide eyes making me smile right the way through.
Overall, this is far from a great film, and that saddens me a little given Disney’s recent track record, but due to an underwhelming take on the story and a lack of willingness to replicate the striking power of the original, it never really works as well as I would have liked to see. With that said, it is a light, bright family film that young kids will definitely love, while Dumbo is so unavoidably cute that even the greatest cynics will find themselves smiling at some point, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.0.