The combination of the ever quirky Tim Burton and the big top setting of Dumbo is a match made in heaven. At least it is on paper. In reality, this story struggled to fly.
You know the basics: baby elephant with large ears is a subject of ridicule until it’s discovered that he can fly. In this live-action adaptation, we get a whole host of extra layers. Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns to the Medici Brothers’ Circus after losing his arm in the Great War. His wife died from the Spanish flu while he was gone, and circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) has sold the horses that Holt and his wife used in their act because the circus is struggling financially. Oh, and Holt is a father to Joe (Finley Hobbins) and Milly (Nico Parker ), who lived parent-less at the circus after their mother died. Did I mention Milly was a scientist? Because Milly is a scientist!
But wait…there’s more! V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) hears about Dumbo’s ability to fly and wants to bring him to his Dreamland amusement park. Medici jumps at the chance to partner with Vandevere, you know, because his circus is struggling. Dumbo gets partnered up with French trapeze artist, Colette Marchant (Eva Green), because the story needed another layer. Colette is the fake girlfriend of Vandevere, but there are also sparks between her and Holt, maybe? It’s…a lot…
I adore Dumbo, and I adore the Dumbo in this film. The CGI animals were well rendered. Since none of the animals talked in this film, we didn’t get the usual breaks in the animation that come when realistically animated animals are forced to speak. The film also had a gorgeous Burton-esque aesthetic from start to finish. The look of Dreamland was particularly fun, and such an obvious rip on Disneyland that I’m shocked it was in a Disney film.
Dumbo paid homage to the animated original in a variety of ways. “Casey Junior” was incorporated into the score. Pink Elephants became soap bubbles. A ringmaster at Dreamland (Michael Buffer) incorporated the lyrics from “When I See an Elephant Fly” into Dumbo’s introduction.
We all knew they’d have to expand the story to double the running time from the classic story which clocks in at just under an hour. The additions to the story were unwieldy and added bulk to the story without actually moving it along to a satisfying conclusion. The bad guys in the film were cartoonishly bad, and not in a good way. From Medici circus workers to V. A. Vandevere himself, there was a gleeful evilness that was never explained nor needed. Following in the footsteps of the live-action Beauty and the Beast’s anachronistic wokeness, we also get an animal liberation message, too. Like I said, the story was just…a lot.
Disney’s live-action Dumbo created some moments of magic, but the story struggled to pull itself together to create a movie where the whole equaled the sum of its parts.
You can find Dumbo in theaters on March 29, 2019.
Circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) enlists former star Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) and his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) to care for a newborn elephant whose oversized ears make him a laughingstock in an already struggling circus. But when they discover that Dumbo can fly, the circus makes an incredible comeback, attracting persuasive entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who recruits the peculiar pachyderm for his newest, larger-than-life entertainment venture, Dreamland. Dumbo soars to new heights alongside a charming and spectacular aerial artist, Colette Marchant (Eva Green), until Holt learns that beneath its shiny veneer, Dreamland is full of dark secrets.