Movie Review: ‘Dumbo’


Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Roshan Seth

Plot: A war veteran returns to his children and his job in a circus only to find everyone struggling to keep things afloat. They have to potential turn things around, however, with the birth of a big-eared baby elephant with the uncanny ability to fly.

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Review: It’s a bit of thing lately that Disney are adapting their classic animated films to live action remakes. Whilst we’re always going to prefer the animated originals we’ve enjoyed the remakes at the time of watching. Next up in Dumbo, originally the fourth of Disney’s classics, and the remake is being handled by director Tim Burton.

Tim Burton making a live action adaption of a classic Disney animated film? What could go wrong?!

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Oh…damn.

Now I know Alice in Wonderland was generally liked, but I have a disproportionate amount of hatred towards it. Lewis Carroll’s novel in one of my favourite stories and Burton’s ham-fisted attempt to apply logical explanations to a world that is by definition illogical is downright baffling. Burton is more than capable of unique and creative works but this one film causes me an unreasonable amount of anger.

So, cards on the table, I wasn’t thrilled to see Burton take on another childhood favourite. I really tried to but personal distaste aside to watch this new offering but it opens with a travel montage. As in the FIRST SCENE, no setting or characters established, we jump straight into a montage of a train travelling across the country with a brief voice over from Danny Devito. This is without a doubt one of the worst opening scenes I’ve ever seen – incredibly lazy and confusing. It’s not even a good montage, with random scenes of the circus overlaid one shots of a travelling train.

Dumbo (1941) starts with a flock of stork delivering baby animals to excited parents. It’s creative, fun and heartwarming. When it ends with Mrs Jumbo looking on with disappointment as she is passed by, easily establishing her desire for motherhood and giving the audience an emotional connection to the character. Opening with nameless characters over the top of a disconnected train travelling through unknown areas is the opposite of this.

Right, so the opening it a stumble. We soon get introduced to the leads, Milly (Parker) and Joe (Hobbins), a couple of children of the circus about to be reunited with their father Holt Farrier (Farrell) who used to train and ride horses with his now passed wife. Holt has lost an arm in the war, and the circus has sold the horses, but Ringmaster Max Medici (DeVito) offers him the job of caring for the elephants. This includes the newly acquired pregnant Mrs Jumbo, who soon gives birth to ‘Dumbo’. The baby elephant was born with gigantic ears who the children soon discovers allows him to fly.

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Dumbo draws the attention of audiences and big-time producers who want to capitalise on the act. When Medici takes entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Keaton) and his star Colette Marchant (Green) up on his offer to house the act int their theme park they wind up putting their own livelihood, integrity and Dumbo’s safety on the line. It makes sense that the script writers would want to create some human characters to base the film around, given their original lead is a mute animal, but we question how much effort they put into it. The character – Holt – who works as a ‘farrier’ is named ‘Farrier’.

The best name they could come up with for a character who works as a farrier…was ‘Farrier’.

I’m really stuck on this point.

There’s some good design, art and effects work on display here (Vandevere’s theme park is especially nice to look at) but this is an abysmal script. It appears that they started with the original story and then got caught up in giving their surprising large cast of new human characters a plot before remembering that they were making Dumbo and awkwardly jammed in some out-of-context references. The stork landing on the train just before Mrs Jumbo gives birth to Dumbo is fine, but why do they keep bringing in a mouse dressed in circus regalia is Timothy Q. Fieldmouse isn’t a character in this version? The rodent barely appears on screen with Dumbo, so there’s no point including him.

Then there’s the ‘pink elephants’ sequence, a particularly memorable and nightmare inducing part of the animated classic. In place of alcohol induced hallucinations we have a couple of people blowing bubbles that…turn into dancing elephants? We don’t know if this was a result of Dumbo’s imagination as he nods along with the act or a suddenly magical display of bubbling. It’s simply there for the sake of referencing the original scene with no purpose or logic and it brings the story to a screeching halt.

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Most perplexingly is a reference to the crows from the original, a sequence that is often featured when discussing some of the more awkward moments from Disney’s past. The crows themselves don’t appear, obviously, but an all-black marching band playing their song? I’m not sure what the thinking here is but it was a bit off.

I know I’m repeating myself, but this is one of the sloppiest scripts outside of the DCEU. We get a villain – a guy who arbitrarily hates the elephants and Holt – who causes an .animal riot in his second scene and then immediately dies. He’s immediately replaced with a slimy characters who takes Dumbo’s mother away, who is again replaced with Keaton’s oddball villain. Speaking of which, Vandevere is the main antagonist of the movie, and Colette is the female lead but they don’t introduced until a full HOUR into the movie.

You really can’t make a movie from the first draft, people.

Whilst the movie is packed with great actors and looks nice, the script is a complete disaster. Plot threads are set up and go nowhere (in one scene Holt doesn’t want to be recognised by the public in his new role, never comes up again) and over major plot points roll around with no set-up. It’s frustrating and give us no reason to pick this over the original.

Rating: THREE out of TEN