- Tim Burton
- Run Time
- 1 hour and 53 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
The oppressed shall speedily be released; they shall not die and go down to the Pit, nor shall they lack bread.
Our Content ratings (1-10): Violence 2; Language 0; Sex/Nudity 1.
If you don’t mind that the movie makers shift your attention from the animals to the human characters, then Disney’s remake of their classic DUMBO provides, at just short of two hours, pretty good family entertainment. There are none of the original songs (though Danny Elfman’s music is effective), and at times you might think you are watching The Greatest Showman with its similar circus setting and human love story. The new elephant is cute, but this version of the story of a freakish outsider and of the bond between a mother elephant and her baby is nowhere nearly as moving as the original, even though it is almost twice as long.
Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) has lost an arm to World War I and a wife back home to the influenza epidemic. He apparently had not told his two children about his missing arm, so when Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) meet him at the train station, they are a bit taken aback. Before th war he and his wife had been a Western stunt riding and lassoing act, so despite the loss of his arm he harbors the illusion that he can resume his act. Circus master Max Medici (Danny DeVito) instead tells Holt that he is in charge of the elephants, one of which is the pregnant Mrs. Jumbo, which he has recently purchased.
When she births a baby elephant with ears the size of a horse blanket, everyone is upset. Not however the still grieving kids, who find a measure of solace in caring for the little one. Max places Dumbo, decked out like a human baby, in an over-sized buggy, the giant ears hidden behind its head. Of course, there is a snafu, and the ears flop open. The audience erupts in sneering and scorn, laughing when some of the letters on the sign above the little elephant’s head come loose. The J drops off and the “D” from the first line hangs down, resulting in the name reading “Dumbo.” The crowd picks up on this as they laugh. Henceforth this will be the little elephant’s name. Some of the crowd even throw objects at Dumbo, upsetting Mrs. Jumbo so much that she has to be forcibly restrained and taken away. As in the cartoon, she is labeled “Mad Elephant.”
The children discover that Dumbo can fly, and once the skepticism of the adults is overcome, Dumbo becomes a sensation. Their joy is brief because Max sells what he regards as the defective Mrs. Jumbo back to the dealer for half-price. Soon a smooth-talking entrepreneur from New York City V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) arrives in splendor, drawn by the newspaper headlines about the flying elephant. Accompanying him is his top aerialist talent Colette Marchant (Eva Green). Collette immediately pays kind attention to the children, so we know she and Holt are destined to become a pair. Almost before we know it, Max is talked into merging his small circus with Vandevere’s fancy entertainment park at the edge of NYC. The entrepreneur in turn is scrambling to get millionaire financier J. Griffin Remington to invest in his emporium, which depends upon the success of Dumbo’s flying act with Collette, who will ride on his back. The little elephant is now a commodity. How Mrs. Jumbo and Dumbo are brought back together while the circus members work to upset the plans of Vandevere leads to a spectacular ending, one in which there is even a bit of anachronistic political correctness about circuses and caged animals.
Although this is an enjoyable tale, by no means should it replace the original. The 1941 version is much more the tale of an outsider. The anthropomorphic animals talk, it being the gossipy female elephants who scorn and make fun of the little elephant’s ears, naming him Dumbo. And it’s an animal, Timothy Q. Mouse, who builds up the ostracized little guy’s spirits when they first meet, “I think your ears are beautiful. Sure. As a matter of fact, I think they’re very decorative.” (Milly is the encourager in the new film.)
It is unfortunate that the funny sequence in which the black crows discover Dumbo and Timothy sleeping in a tree is tainted with the racism so prevalent in the Forties, but parents can help young viewers to understand and not emulate the stereotype of blacks—though admittedly, the sequence will be harder for African American families to watch. Even so, in preparation for writing this review I watched and enjoyed the original more than the remake. The new film has been scrubbed of anything racially offensive, but despite Tim Burton being at the helm, it is not up to the original in terms of imagination. (I should mention that Mr. Burton does pull off a delightful sequence of giant elephant-shaped bubbles inspired by the one in which Dumbo and Timothy become drunk by accident and hallucinate a dance sequence involving dozens of pink elephants.)
Since writing the above yesterday, I have had second thoughts about the way the two movies end, which leads me to believe that the ending of the new one is superior. The crass commercialism of Vandevere is on full display in the current film, and latent in the way the 1941 ends—a triumphant Dumbo is aboard a train on which he has his own private car. It’s destination, Hollywood, the hotbed of commercialization! But of course the Disney people back then offer no hint of this—doesn’t everyone want to go to Hollywood and become a star? The new version reflects today values and, though some may sneer at its political correctness, is probably preferable.
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