Tonight I saw Disney’s new Dumbo movie – a live-action remake of the 1941 animated classic. The film – directed by Tim Burton – stars Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Colin Farrell and Eva Green tells the story of Jumbo (aka Dumbo) and his tear-inducing time spent as a circus attraction.
If you’ve watched the original movie, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then know that Dumbo is an emotional rollercoaster that sees a baby elephant separated from his mother.
Yep, that’s pretty much the crux of Dumbo. Oh and there’s also some flying.
Here’s the trailer…
I’m a huge fan of Disney’s Animated Classics, of which Dumbo is Walt Disney Animated Classic No.4. While Dumbo isn’t up there with my all-time favourites, I do appreciate its significance in the Disney portfolio and it is a pretty good tale.
When it was announced that Dumbo was to be remade in live-action, I must admit I was quite surprised. Unlike Aladdin, Cinderella or The Jungle Book, which lend themselves to the remake treatment, Dumbo really doesn’t have the same credentials.
At just over an hour in length, Dumbo is one of the shortest cartoon features to come out of the Mouse House and it is a film with very little story. So, how does director Tim Burton manage to take a 64 minute cartoon and transform it into a live-action adventure, clocking in at almost double the running time?
Simple – he and writer, Ehren Kruger, chuck in a lot of filler material.
This new live-action Dumbo has been expanded considerably, with new story beats, extra content, and a whole new sub-plot involving Michael Keaton and an amusement park.
The good news is, Keaton is ever reliable and the core essence of the Dumbo story remains. I’m happy to report that I genuinely had an enjoyable time watching this movie and 2019’s Dumbo retains much of the same charm as the original.
The bad news?
My enjoyment really had nothing to do with all of the new stuff.
Where Dumbo excels is in all of the content lifted from the original. The Pink Elephants on Parade sequence; the bittersweet lullaby, Baby Mine; the stuff with Dumbo’s mother – all of this is taken from the animated movie and all of it is adapted well.
Where the movie works less well is in the additional material and this is largely because it takes some of the focus off Dumbo. The new content isn’t bad, but it doesn’t really add anything to Dumbo’s story and it gets in the way of the lead star.
The emotional weight of Dumbo, is and always will be, the relationship between Dumbo and his mother. When this new movie zeros in on this relationship it’s very effective. When it moves away from this it is less successful.
There is an attempt to mirror Dumbo’s situation with human characters, but it’s less appealing. Humans weren’t the main focus of the animated movie and there was a reason for that – they’re simply not as interesting as a flying elephant.
But enough about what doesn’t work, as noted above, when Dumbo recaptures the core of the cartoon, it hits the spot. It’s funny, it’s moving, and above all else, it’s entertaining.
This movie doesn’t feel like a Tim Burton picture – which might be a good thing if you’ve fallen out of love with the director – but it does feel like a decent two hours of entertainment. Sure, ‘decent’ doesn’t mean ‘amazing’, but it doesn’t mean ‘bad’ either.
I found Dumbo to be enjoyable. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but younger audiences will like it and parents will be pleased too.