Even though it is one of the shortest of Disney’s animated films, the original Dumbo from 1941 is still an ideal choice as a beginner Disney film for children, when we all are still very close to our mothers. The same cannot be said for the remake of Dumbo, which, while I am sure is well-intended, is nothing short of a disappointing failure.
Directed by Tim Burton, we start off the film in Sarasota Florida (not sure why we need to know the exact location) in 1919. A year after many of the circus performers have died due to the influenza outbreak, we see Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), returning from the war (after having lost his arm) to his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). He is not the best at knowing how to talk to his children like his wife was (she was one of the influenza victims). Despite being with only one arm, he is eager to be back as the circus horse rider, but finds out that his boss Max Medici (Danny Devito, who is pitch perfect) has sold the horses due to money issues. He assigns Holt to taking care of his newest investment, a female elephant named Jumbo, soon to be having a baby.
The first half of the film is basically the story from the original film, as Jumbo Jr. (soon to be called Dumbo) is separated from his mother after a mishap, then later discovers his ears are the perfect set of wings. The second half introduces us to V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), the owner of a more futuristic theme park called Dreamland, along with his somewhat flame and muse Colette (Eva Green), who is set to fly atop Dumbo.
The second half is filled with the visuals we would expect in a Burton film. Yes, some are fun to look at (there is a segment dedicated to the Pink Elephants that I am happy to say was not one of the film’s many down points), but it was the parts of the story that seemed too much for the audience to handle (regardless of age). The second half also provides a cameo from a pop culture figure (whom I have always admired) that makes you want to just shout out “Wait,…WHAT?!”, and not in a good way.
The film does have plenty of nods to the original (though the controversial crows are not present), but (aside from the aforementioned Pink Elephants), very few succeed. The original Dumbo (if you think I have said that word too often, wait till you hear how many times they do in the film) had one of the more tender, heartbreaking moments in Disney history with the song “Baby Mine.” Here, the song seems like it was tacked on with very little thought or heart to it.
Parents, your kids would be fine seeing this, though I would highly encourage they see the far superior original first.
As always, this is a Disney film that has lessons for kids (as well as adults), most notably how our weakness can also be our strength (Psalm 18:28, 2 Corinthians 12:10). The issue (at least for me) is that this was already told nearly eight decades ago in the animated film. Dumbo is the first of three live action remakes to be released in 2019 (the others being Aladdin and The Lion King). While some of the past remakes were at least somewhat enjoyable, I have yet to see a single live action remake of a Disney animated classic that can even be close to comparing to the original. If that does happen, then I be done seen about everything.