Remakes. Sequels. We’ve all heard the same complaints about Hollywood’s monotonous slate of movies that lack any ounce of originality. If you haven’t, I guess we don’t hang out that much. Dumbo is the latest addition to the Live-action remake boom of Disney classic animated movies. It is at both somehow the best version of this phenomenon and also the hardest to sit through.
Forgoing the opportunity to do a shot-by-shot remake, Dumbo opts instead to piecemeal an original story with parts of the original. The themes from the original still anchor this iteration; children being unceremoniously and cruelly separated from their mothers (fun!), bravery and what makes you unique should be celebrated and not ridiculed. These themes are mirrored throughout the film with the human family, The Farriers, (Colin Farrell, Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins.) Beset by tragedy which saw the death of their mother and a father returning home from war missing an arm, the two children, Milly and Joe, take immediately to dough-eyed Dumbo as all try to adjust to a life without their mamas.
Once Dumbo takes flight for the first time inside the ring, word gets out about the amazing flying elephant. Enter entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) who buys the entire rinky operation run by Max Medici (a delightful Danny Devito) and moves his rag tag team of circus freaks to his large-scale entertainment complex “Dreamland”, that, yes, looks a lot like Disneyland and yes, isn’t as grand it seems.
This is where the movie starts to fall of the rails for me. There’s a strange sort of revolving door of villains that cascade throughout the film, each of them more cartoonish in their actions than the next, that feel like they’re in a different movie compared to the more subdued Farrier family. The bad guys in this movie:
A. Trap children in a burning building
B. Manically start pressing buttons and pulling levers in an electric tower which causes said fire
C. Corner an elephant with a whip
D. Separate a frantic mama Elephant from her newborn son…and a bunch of times.
It gets tedious to endure after awhile. But to its credit, it wouldn’t feel like such an emotional gut punch if it weren’t a highly effective movie. That I left shaking after watching this poor fake elephant being tortured means Tim Burton did his job. If we are to keep going down this path of remakes, the way to do it might just be for directors like Burton who are allowed to inject their little bit of weird into the otherwise familiar. It’s also incredibly stunning visually, with each set piece topping the next and you feel very lived in this world, which is probably why it’s so effective at being so emotional.
This is to say if you think Dumbo is going to be too sad for you, trust your gut. If seeing animals in less than desirable conditions, even computer-generated ones, isn’t your idea of a good time, stay very far away from this movie. If it’s something that you can get past or if you’re a monster with no attachments to adorable baby animals, by all means enjoy it! Or you know…if you’re an adult who understands movies aren’t real, maybe you’ll love it! In the end, it was not for me. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s a very specific type of movie that is not my jam. It is both the best live action remake to date and I also never want to see it again.
Hug your pets and call your mothers.