Max Merdici (Danny DeVito) sinks his money into the investment of a new baby elephant for his struggling travelling circus, and hires returned veteran Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) to take care of the pachyderm. However, Dumbo is no ordinary elephant; born with comically oversized ears, Dumbo, with the help of Farrier’s children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), learns to fly. When amusement park magnate V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) and aerial artist Colette Marchant (Eva Green) offer to buy out Merdici’s marvellous flying elephant, little Dumbo and his circus family set off into new and unsettling territory, hoping to reunite the young elephant with his mother.
Dumbo is a reimagining based on the classic story written by Helen Abseron and Harold Pearl, which inspired Disney’s 1941 animated version. The film is directed by Tim Burton, with the screenplay written by Ehren Kruger, set to the music of Burton’s partner-in-crime, the incomparable Danny Elfman.
Dumbo is hauntingly beautiful, and Burton has captured the wonder and magic of many iconic scenes from the Disney original, particularly in the remake of the ‘pink elephants on parade’ sequence, which might be the most captivating scene of the whole film. If Burton was able to strike this cord consistently throughout key scenes and not as just a sprinkle of visual seasoning, he might have made a truly magical film. With Burton’s name attached to this film, one expects something as dark as his usual brand of Edward Gorey spookiness. There are sinister and creepy undertones, particularly in the beginning, but these unfortunately dissolve rather quickly into another relatively banal Disney live-action remake. If the same level of Burton infused in the creepy Soviet-era clowns was spread to the rest of the movie, it could have been something memorable. After all, the circus is the perfect setting for a bit of weird and wonderful. Unfortunately, the circus troop is relatively disappointing, and most of all, is one of the most static groups of people I’ve ever witnessed on screen. Where is the inclusion of a more diverse group of people à la Tod Browning’s Freaks?
The CGI is excellent, with the right balance struck between cutesy characterisation of Dumbo and true-to-life proportions of elephants. Dumbo is adorable and affectively emotive with his shimmering blue eyes. However, the incorporation of Colette flying on Dumbo’s back is awkward at best.
The dialogue and acting is lackluster and clunky, and the plot gets caught up on spectacle, seemingly unsure whether it’s Dumbo or the Farriers that are the protagonist(s). The children act as the mouthpiece for an elephant that, in order to have a story needed to have sentience and expressible emotions, but for the sake of live action, can’t talk. Also, who lets two elephants board a boat unattended?
The film will be undoubtedly enchanting and entertaining for families and young children, and sets the right tone for Burton fans. Unfortunately, his influence is somewhat diluted and more of his Burton-esque charm is warranted.
I rate this film 7/10.
Dumbo will be tugging at heartstrings, defying the laws of gravity, and flying into cinemas from March 28th.