Dumbo (2019)

With this live action Dumbo, Tim Burton builds bigger but not bolder, broader but not better.  He doubles the runtime of the original, and fills his new version with more plot, more characters, and just…more.  But, for all this film’s relentless busyness, much of Burton’s idiosyncratic, amiably macabre personality has been stripped away.  Those looking for the irresistible oddity of Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands will only see it in the faintest of glimmers.  Instead, Dumbo gets a fairly straightforward transfer from its animated origin.  It’s decently entertaining, earnestly acted, but even Dumbo‘s finest scenes only callback to the eternal magic of its predecessor.

The story of Dumbo should be familiar, and if it’s not…well, I hope you’re enjoying your first week here on Earth, and I’m sorry the government had to confiscate the wreckage of your spacecraft.  Anyway, Max Medici (Danny DeVito) heads up a troop of traveling circus performers.  One day, one of his newly acquired elephants gives birth to an adorable baby with enormous, floppy ears who can take to the skies.  In this version, a discharged WWI vet (Colin Farrell) and his precocious tots (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins) are tasked with caring for baby Dumbo and harnessing his flying talents.  Before long, a sinister P.T. Barnum-type (Michael Keaton) gets wind of this magic elephant and arrives with his golden checkbook and a woman (Eva Green) who promises to ride Dumbo to profitable glory.

Now, a full disclaimer:  For all its beloved brilliance, the original Dumbo has pockets of ignorance and racism that date the film and tarnish its legacy.  It’s a product of its time, and there’s no way around that.  That being said, I’m just full of disclaimers today:  I’ve never cried watching a movie.  Not once.  Guess I’m just made out of solid steel.  But, the animated Dumbo got me real close.  That’s how magical it was.

This new version calls back to many of that earlier film’s most famous moments:  A stork does a flyby during Dumbo’s birth.  The kids bring by a few lovable rodents to meet little Dumbo.  The animated version’s weird, proto-psychedelic “Pink Elephants” hallucination sequence gets a Cirque de Soleil-style homage.  The film even references the scene where Dumbo’s mom is shackled and about to be hauled away for defending him.  You know the one, where she wraps him up in her trunk and sings “Baby Mine,” and……..*sniffles* I’m not crying!  My eyes are watering!!!  Quit looking at me!!!

I’m a Beatles fanatic, and every time somebody covers one of their songs, I’m left with the same question:  Why?  You gonna make a better version of “Hey Jude”?  Or “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”?  That’s also how I feel about movies like this.  Sure, the original shows its age in the worst possible way.  But, it’s best moments are as good as anything in any animated movie ever.  You ain’t gonna top those scenes.  So, why do it?  Don’t get me wrong, this Dumbo is a slick, well-made movie.  The special effects are top-notch and a cast of Burton regulars does a damn fine job.  Kids will probably eat it up.  Disney will make truckloads of cash.  I just don’t get why we needed it.

 

Author: Todd Wofford

Leave a Reply