Dumbo (2019)
Dumbo (2019)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 52 min.

Release Date: March 29th, 2019 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Tim Burton Actors: Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Michael Keaton, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Deobia Oparei

 


 

W

hile renowned horse rider Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) is away at war, his family at the Medici Bros. Circus travels across the United States from Sarasota, Florida to Joplin, Missouri. When Holt arrives home, everything has changed. Flagging ticket sales and setbacks from influenza outbreaks force circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) to sell all the horses from Holt’s act, leaving the returning veteran with the only job available – elephant wrangler. With the aid of his children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), Holt must care for the circus’ pregnant elephant, Mrs. Jumbo. His problems grow much larger when the newborn pachyderm is discovered to have abnormally oversized ears – an attribute that relegates both Holt and “Dumbo” to the clown department. But when the children uncover Dumbo’s magnificent hidden talent, his sudden leap into the spotlight sends the whole family on a magical adventure they’ll never forget.

From the very first moments, it’s evident that this newest iteration of the Helen Aberson/Harold Pearl story won’t actually star a floppy-eared elephant. Since the animals don’t speak, they’ve been robbed of being at the center of the escapades; it’s now a film about the Farrier family (taking on human issues, such as economic hardships, wartime losses, and familial cataclysms), with Dumbo (also nicknamed “Big D”) reduced to a mere supporting character. This is tragic, not only because Dumbo is the one with the familiar plight, but also because it’s difficult to mine sympathy from human characters immersed in a world of hyper-intelligent fauna. Mrs. Jumbo and her son can clearly understand English, which makes the sequences of animal cruelty and general domestication just that much more unbearable (and the human’s complicity more unforgivable).

“That ain’t a real elephant!” To circumvent the disappointment of alterations to the beloved perspective of animal heroes, the film’s state-of-the-art computer animation should have come to the rescue. Instead, there’s something noticeably off about the integration of CG and live-action actors; a hazy glow emanates around everything, highlighting the considerable extent to which the backgrounds and environments are digital insertions. In many scenes, the majority of the frame is crowded with unconvincing computer models. The worst example, however, is when Colette (Eva Green), a full-grown woman, jumps aboard the baby elephant to soar through the big top; it’s both pitifully animated and uncomfortably illogical.

Without Timothy Q. Mouse as a Jiminy Cricket-like mentor, and without Dumbo as the emotional core, audiences are left with formulaic human protagonists and human villains. Auteur Tim Burton at the helm should have had a major impact, boasting a number of components that scream of his signature moviemaking techniques, but the only thing that feels prominent is the music by Danny Elfman and the casting of both Danny DeVito and Michael Keaton – as if a mini “Batman Returns” reunion. And then, of course, there’s the hiring of Eva Green, who is becoming quite the Burton regular.

Curiously, a push toward practical thinking over flights of fancy, and science over gut feelings appear as secondary themes, while a Disneyland ripoff called Dreamland has a prominent role during the third act. These ill-fitting additives lend to a climax reminiscent of “King Kong,” ultimately only serving to emphasize how much was done with 1941’s 64-minute classic, and how little was improved by a nearly two-hour, detail-packed, plot-embellished, big-budgeted, live-action extravaganza. There’s no real sense of wonderment and no attachment to the characters; even the unforgettable song “Baby Mine” ends up getting shared by human personas, sapping the pathos away from one of the most iconically sentimental sequences of the original. “Wow! This is a disaster!” exclaims wealthy investor J. Griffin Remington (Alan Arkin), making a comment that could be aptly applied to this terribly unnecessary update.

– The Massie Twins

  • 3/10