Release date: March 29, 2019 (USA)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Screenplay by: Ehren Kruger
Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin.
Dumbo, an elephant with oversized ears, is born in the Medici Bros. Circus. The owner Max Medici (DeVito) enlists Holt Farrier (Farrell) to care for the baby. But amidst the jest and derision from the public, Farrier’s children will discover that Dumbo is more special than everybody thinks, and he’ll become the star of the show! But then things go south because Capitalism.
First things first, I wasn’t expecting to care about this CGI baby elephant so much. Specially since the first look of CGI Dumbo looked like a creature straight from Uncanny Valley. But as the story progressed, I was invested in his well-being, and found myself both encouraging this CGI animal, and worried for its safety.
Tim Burton’s Dumbo is the newest live-action (or CGI) remake of a Disney classic. But unlike Beauty and the Beast which was basically the same movie, this one is quite different than the original Disney’s Dumbo from 1941. It is longer for once. Almost double the runtime. And thus, the plot had to be tweaked. The core was there, with Dumbo getting mocked for his huge ears, Dumbo getting separated from his mother, Dumbo learning how to fly, Dumb becoming a big success… but the live-action movie doesn’t end there. And it’s in this second part of the story that things become more Burtonesque, with Dumbo and the circus troupe moving to Dreamland, a theme park with a fantastic steampunk aesthetic, that’s all shiny and over-the-top on the outside, but quite dark and menacing on the inside. You know, Tim Burton stuff.
The shoutout to the original Dumbo’s soundtrack was appreciated, which started at the very beginning, which also served as a nice way to show us the core of the Medici Bros. Circus, whimsical and dilapidated. Both new versions of “Baby Mine”, the one sung in the movie and the one in the end-credits, were lovely. Curiously, the version in the trailer wasn’t in the film. Also, pink elephants!
Besides Dumbo, and sometimes his mom Mrs. Jumbo, the animals didn’t have a big part in this film, except for a nod to Dumbo’s mouse friend Timothy from the 1941 film. And thus, the humans were the ones that carried the story. Specially this family comprised of a father, who returns from the war sans an arm, to find his new place in the circus where his wife and performance partner is dead from the flu, and can’t relate to his own children. That said, for all their difficult life and sad backstory, I didn’t find myself caring much about their plight unless it was related to Dumbo. Possibly because the kids couldn’t act.
As for the rest of the circus members, they were a surprising delight. We didn’t know much about them, but they were very likeable. Except for this one asshole who had his just desserts. The standouts of the group were the snake-charmer Pramesh Singh (Seth), who even had a couple of heartfelt moments with Mrs. Jumbo and with Dumbo, the “mermaid lady” Miss Atlantis (Rooney), who was adorable and feisty under her melancholic air, and the strong man Rongo the Strongo (Oparei) who was also a sort of second-in-command/assistant to Medici. His exasperated looks were the best.
Eva Green was great as the resident defrosting ice queen, trapeze artist Colette Marchant. She seemed so stuck-up and cold at the beginning that I would have mistaken her for a minor villain if I hadn’t seen the trailer beforehand. Colette is actually caring and warm, and it’s because of her past experiences and her relationship with Vandevere (Keaton), that she puts on this mask of indifference and selfishness. Also, her wardrobe was amazing.
Michael Keaton’s V. A. Vandevere is the obvious antagonist/villain of the movie. And the contrast with Danny DeVito’s Max Medici is fascinating. Max Medici is a sleazeball character who just wants to make money. But underneath that, he cares about his circus people as if they were family. Unlike Vandevere, who cares only about the business, making him a more conniving and amoral character. Vandevere is what Medici wishes to be as far as success go, but he ain’t about to leave his loved ones in the dirt for that. It’s a contrast between big business and small business. Curiously, even the Wall Street tycoon guy (Arkin), likes Medici more than Vandevere. You know you are a bad guy when even the capitalist money dude doesn’t like you.
And it’s here where it connects with another big theme in the film. In the original Dumbo, the story ends after Dumbo flies in public and he becomes a star. In Tim Burton’s Dumbo, the titular character also becomes a star, but here it’s where, as stated in the beginning of this review, things go south because Capitalism. Here’s where the theme of “no wild animal belong in the circus” is driven home. And thus the ending is different and quite on the nose, but it’s a lovely message.
P.S.: OMG, Michael Buffer was there as a ringmaster in Dreamland! Let’s get ready for Dumbooooo!