If we were to play Walt Disney top trumps, Dumbo would be a pretty good card to hold. It is one of the most charming, most creatively beautiful animated films in history with great music, memorable sequences and despite there being a world war, hugely profitable. The visionary Pink Elephants on Parade sequence is one of my favourite animated scenes, so upon hearing that this remake would be from an equally visionary director in Tim Burton, I thought this was a near perfect choice, let him do what he does with his family films, but let his gothic, dark fantasy creativity shine for this sequence. However, maybe I wished too hard because Dumbo is such a disappointment, I wonder if there is anything of the old Tim Burton left.
I do want to get into things that are likeable because there are some likeable things in this “live action” remake. First of all, for a director like Tim Burton in the first few moments, you need to know that he made this film otherwise there is no identity. Luckily, you’ll be able to know Dumbo has his directorial trademark via his visual punch. There may not be much dark, gothic tales going on but his synonymous style breaths life in his scenery and world building. The two circuses The Medici Bros. Circus and Dreamland are special is both small and large scales. On one hand, you have the quaintness of the travelling Medici Bros. Circus and the other Dreamland which can only be described as if Tim Burton has designed Disneyland.
Every new “live action” Disney adaptation seems to get better and better with it rendering of CGI characters and settings, Dumbo raises the bar with its prime example being the titular character himself. Dumbo is just as cute and adorable as his animated counterpart; little kids are going to fall in love with him very quickly. His character has always sent a great message to all audiences, your imperfections can be the most perfect thing about you. This is right at the core of Dumbo’s character; how much easier can it be to appreciate him?
It is however very difficult to justify other positives about the film being told because it doesn’t come anywhere close to sharing the same reflection as the animated classic. There is a completely different story being told with the focus shifted away from learning anything new about Dumbo, and instead concentrates on a new character that has nothing to do with the original story. Would it help if the new characters were performed well? It would, but Dumbo doesn’t give you the satisfaction. Tim Burton has had his fair share of bland child actors, but the two children in Dumbo Milly and Joe (Nico Parker & Finley Hobbins) are quite possibly the blandest of the bland. By no means is this their fault, but you would think that Tim Burton would have asked for more emotion once in a while.
In fact, there is no one performance that stands out. Colin Farrell is that particularly impressive as Holt, the father of Milly and Joe, who is always saddened by the death of his wife, we get constant reminders of this fact, but we never follow through with it, there is no exploration. Next on the chopping block is the “villain” of the piece V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), I say “villain” because his character is a mixture of evil Walt Disney and pantomime villain performance, is there some sort of beef between Burton and Disney because the parallels are really out there. (maybe Tim Burton never forgave Disney for the Frankenweenie short). But if you’re looking for the cheesiest performance, you can’t look anywhere else but the iconic boxing announcer Michael Buffer making a cameo role as the Dreamland ringmaster, how cheesy you may ask? “Let’s get ready for Dumbo!” (he actually says that! Twice!).
As previously mentioned, the Pink Elephants on Parade was a big selling point for me seeing this film. In the 1941 animated film, as a child this scene was terrifying and a first taste of the abnormal. Now I’m older I look at this scene as a prime example of absolute freedom creatively, I often think of how many puzzled faces there must have been when that scene was pitched. Now in this new adaptation, it was a reminder that there is something that just looks better animated. A big complaint from people in cases like Dumbo is that certain things work because they look animated, bringing them into a realist existence is too abnormal and unfortunately, this is the case.
The animated 1941 Dumbo was only an hour long, so it’s only natural to find original ideas that can be implemented into the story, which is an OK thing to do, more information on the characters we know is a requirement for any expansive story. Dumbo makes one big mistake in trimming an already short story and even cutting out characters like Timothy Q. Mouse. Not entirely however, it’s more of a cameo role but incorporating him into this film would be incredibly easy. His character had charisma and was a charming play on the stereotype between elephants and mice, but more important, he was Dumbo’s only animal friend,
I was vastly disappointed by Dumbo, and even more disappointed by Tim Burton. This was a director on par with the most gifted, but over the years he’s thrown away his gifts to create machine-like produced films that are barely enough to satisfy the most loyal of his fans. He hasn’t learned from his previous mistakes, from the wooden acting to desperately filling in the blanks with unnecessary subplots that are never followed through. The basic truth is, I don’t look forward to his films any more, and I wish I did.