By James Davidson
“Dumbo” is the first in the line of several classic Disney films getting a modern, live-action makeover this year. “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” are scheduled to come out later this year, and “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast” already received the live-action treatment a few years ago. I saw the first two films to be turned into live-action, and was slightly disappointed because both of them were essentially shot for shot remakes of the original classics. I was hoping that “Dumbo” would be a little different, more reimagined than just a remake of the original.
With Tim Burton directing, I was thinking the film might have some dark undertones. Since Burton is known for making classics a little macabre; and the original already has a dark style to it. I was kind of looking forward to seeing Burton’s reimagining of this classic Disney movie, considering he has made a number of films like this before with a bit of success.
The movie started out promising. From the beginning, it was evident that the animals would not be articulate; although their facial expressions and some of their actions were slightly anthropomorphic. It seemed like the film was going to focus on the humans of a failing circus traveling the Southeastern US in the early 1900s. It focuses specifically on the Farrier children, Milly and Joe (played by Nico Parker and Finley Hobins respectively), as they deal with the death of their mother and the return of their father, Holt (played by Colin Farrell) who was injured in the war.
The circus, ran by Max Medici (Danny DeVito), is trying to find a way to stay afloat financially. Medici puts Holt and the children in charge of the circus’ new pregnant elephant. After the Elephant gives birth to a “hideous” baby elephant with giant ears. The children discover that the new baby can fly and they try to convince the adults to put him in the show.
While I really enjoyed the premise of this film, I was a little disappointed in the execution. The movie’s pacing was extremely slow and there was a lot of exposition. There were a number of scenes with just two or three people talking and the only differences between them was the setting. While there were a few very enjoyable scenes, these were few and far between with a lot monotony between. Considering this movie is marketed for children, it was obviously hard for the younger audience to pay attention throughout the almost two hour movie, at least based on my first-hand experience.
While the pacing was extremely slow, there were a few entertaining scenes that partially made up for this. These scenes were mostly callbacks to the original animated classic. I really enjoyed the “easter eggs” that were put into this movie. They were reminiscent of the original film, but Tim Burton made these scenes his own.
Some of the Computer Generated Imaging (CGI) used in this film was not very good. The animals were all made from CGI and for the most part they looked fine, life-like and even cute in some places. The facial expressions on the animals were well done also. But some of the CGI done with live people in the scenes with the CGI animals, especially when the humans were riding on the flying elephant, looked very fake and were poorly done. I realize that people riding flying elephants isn’t supposed to look natural, but I have seen movies with people riding fictional animals, such as dragons that looked more real.
I didn’t think the movie was quite as macabre feeling as I was expecting with Burton directing. There were a few dark moments, that dealt with the separation of Dumbo from his mother, as well as at the new circus that Dumbo and the Farrier family moved to, which had some dark elements to it that mostly dealt with the way that the animals and people working in this circus were treated. However, as a whole the movie was fairly light-hearted.
“Dumbo” is rated PG for peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief, mild language. This movie is appropriate for younger children, it just might not be able to hold their attention for the entire run-time.
“Dumbo” has great potential to be a fantastic reimagining of a beloved animated classic. It has an original story with some great callbacks to the original film. Unfortunately it just falls short on the technical execution and some scenes seemed to drag-on. I probably will not be watching this film again, but I’m not upset that I saw it at least once. It’s a decent family film that earns 3 out of 5 stars.