Director: Tim Burton | Runtime: 1h 52mins | Adventure, Fantasy
A baby Elephant, born into a failing circus, is ripped from his overprotective Mother because of the bullying he receives for his abnormally large ears. With the help of widowed Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) and his two kids, Dumbo gains the ability to fly and becomes a circus sensation.
Since Cinderella (2015) Disney have found a new safety net of profitable films from remaking their classic selection of animated gems from the past century. While we are yet to see a bad live-action remake, the majority of them to be released are relatively uninspired. Beauty and the Beast (2017), while fun and casted perfectly, can’t quite capture the same charm as the original, and Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book (2016) strives for visual excellence over a dense story, something that should of been top of the list to improve upon from the original. Luckily for their next feature, Disney put their faith in the visually unique and experienced Tim Burton. With an original that packs a dated, but classic nonetheless, visual experience with very little plot content, Burton has so much more room to turn his incarnation of Dumbo into a well rounded piece made for a 21st Century audience.
While the story is a lot richer with content, it still can’t escape some of the shortcomings of it’s predecessor. Despite introducing numerous characters all with a certain uniqueness in story and presentation, including Colin Farrell’s one-armed war veteran (a plot point that seems unnecessary), the film still can’t shake the fact that the first 20 minutes or so coast on Dumbo’s cuteness. With very little content the film uses it’s adorable leading character to distract from the lack of world and character building, and while there is no doubt that Dumbo is probably the cutest thing to hit your screens this year, it feels like a cheap diversion until the more interesting story comes along.
It’s not until the introduction of Michael Keaton’s V. A. Vandevere that Dumbo picks up and begins to find new life in original territory. It’s at this point that it loses the story of it’s original, with Dumbo already flying high and overcoming any conflict he has, it turns into a tale of human character against a villain who’s goal is to make money more than anything. The way, long-time Burton collaborator, Michael Keaton plays the titular villain feels like it’s straight from a Disney classic, harbouring a flamboyant personality and charm that’s paired with an underlying cunning and deceit, something that is used for the very best of Disney villains, and top it all off Michael Keaton’s untouchable charisma is on full display to really give the character a voice. Even the introduction of Eva Green’s Collette Marchant gives new life to all the human characters, giving them more motivation and leading them to an emotional but happy ending for all.
Dumbo may not be the most consistent film, but Tim Burton’s distinct style suits the flying Elephant down to a tee. With the director’s unique eye and Disney’s best qualities still on show, Dumbo manages to be the most original live-action remake, packing a visual feast and even nodding to it’s predecessor through a wonderful bubble sequence. Despite being a slow starter Dumbo can still be considered a welcoming addition to the stacked catalogue of Disney films, and even though we are yet to watch a live-action remake that proves their relevance, Tim Burton’s gothic display and the adorability of it’s lead character won’t make you sick of them just yet.