We live in a time where it seems like every year, nostalgia becomes more and more of a commodity. Every year the box office smashes records, and it does so with sequels, prequels, adaptations, reboots, and remakes. And while I could get theatrically profound about the implications of this trend and what it means to the art form and to the industry and to society, doing so would ironically be pretty uninspired and derivative, not to mention self important and probably a little preachy. On top of that, needless to say nostalgia isn’t going anywhere. In fact, between Star Wars, Marvel, and various live-action reboots of Disney classics, nostalgia is having one of its biggest years yet (and that’s only covering the work of one studio).
Disney’s live-action adaptations in particular have made for a mixed slate of performances in the last few years, with Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 take on Cinderella and Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book in 2016 being obvious hits. Others, one of the most notable being Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, seem to invariably miss. Come to think of it, it’s curious to think that of all the remakes thus far, that was the only one to get a sequel with Alice: Through The Looking Glass. Curiouser and curiouser, I might add, that after the six year successor had an even worse reception, writer/director Tim Burton was immediately asked to come back to helm the studio’s adaptation of the 1941 classic, Dumbo. And while the new take on the story of our favorite aeronautical elephant has plenty to offer in both highs and lows, it’s certainly not the Tim Burton you’re expecting.
One thing that made Disney’s fourth-ever animated feature so special was that it was able to apply the infallible emotional formula present in most Disney films to a story about an animal that doesn’t talk. In the new version, while still primarily Dumbo’s movie, humans are brought to the foreground as the story expands far beyond the scale of the original, both for better and for worse. In the post-World War I south, Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns home wounded from the war, to be reunited with his children, Milly and Joe, who have just lost their mother while traveling with the circus that the entire family once lived with performed in together. As the three continue on the road with the struggling circus, disgruntled ringmaster Maximillion Medici (Danny DeVito) puts them in charge of a newborn elephant with oversized ears after unsuccessfully trying to return him from where his pregnant mother was purchased. One of the most significant updates to the original is that in this movie, the young elephant, with the help of Milly and Joe, discovers his ability to fly at the beginning of the story. This draws the attention of eccentric entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who wants to make Dumbo the main attraction at his new innovative amusement park, Dreamland. With now multiple egos on the line, as well future of his friends’ lives, and most importantly his reunion with his mother, Dumbo most learn to use his gift when it really counts.
The lows of the film mainly at least a couple disappointingly lackluster performances from an otherwise stellar cast, and several story threads that seem to be a bigger bite than the screenplay can chew. At the same time, much of what is charming about Burton’s Dumbo is the creativity it brings to addressing several points in the source material. While many aspects of the original wouldn’t make sense to remake shot-for-shot in live-action, many of the changes are sensible and fun. Without giving away too much, I was happy to see storks, a small mouse in a marching band outfit, an colorful acid-trip dancing elephant sequence, and not a single crow named Jim. Speaking of which, while the concept of the feather being the catalyst of Dumbo’s power is still there, it’s connection to the story is different. Additionally, the “Baby Mine” lullaby scene, while brief, was easily an emotional highlight of the film performed by a supporting character on screen.
Tim Burton’s retelling might not rank among the top of its peers, mainly due to an overambitious script and several emotional moments that could have been. On the other hand, such a high level of creative freedom could have been easily over-seasoned with too much Tim Burton-ness. Nonetheless, the result was a surprising middle ground with several emotional moments that do, in fact, land, and several creative adaptations of aspects the original. After all, a charming mix of a fresh take and nostalgia is the goal here, right?
Without breaking any records or any ground, Tim Burton’s Dumbo is a solid family treat that potentially could hold up for as long as any of the other remakes might. And seeing the little guy fly around a circus tent might be one of your favorite Disney moments this year.
Release Date: March 29, 2019 (USA)
Cast: Alan Arkin, Danny Devito, Colin Farrell, Eva Green, Finley Jobbins, Michael Keaton, Deobia Oparei, Nico Parker, Roshan Seth
Distributor: Walt Disney Poictures, Motion Pictures
Director: Tim Burton
Genre: Family, Fantasy
Runtime: 112 minutes
Official Website: Disney Movies
Official Social Media Pages:
IMDB Page: Dumbo (2019)
Wiki Link: Dumbo (2019 Film)
Jake Hardison |Writing Contributor
A.A | Digital Broadcast Arts Palomar College
Jake is a second year student at Palomar College pursuing transfer to a university to study TV, Film, and New Media. At Palomar’s radio station, KKSM AM 1320, Jake hosts a weekly movie and entertainment news show called Morning Wood on Mondays from 6-9 am. Jake is an avid fan of pop culture and all things fandom, and has been especially passionate about film and music his entire life. Engaging in skills such as filmmaking, singing, acting, broadcast, voiceover, and writing, his interests are diverse, yet revolve around enthusiasm for the art of storytelling. Jake currently hopes to pursue a career in entertainment reporting and eventually break into other forms of media. Instagram: @JakeHardison_17 | View My Project
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