“I've never seen an elephant fly!” - except that we have. As is the case with Disney lately, they have decided to once again re-imagine one of their all-time classic animated films and this time it is the turn of Tim Burton retelling the much-loved story of the elephant with abnormally large ears, Dumbo.
As is the case with these live action remakes, it's hard to not compare them to their animated predecessors and, although that isn't the best practice, it has to be addressed. This new version of the cherished tale starts off promising with its wonderfully realised opening title sequence, which to be truthful embodies the original with its wacky train set piece, and introduces us to the humans who will be our main focal point in telling Dumbo’s story.
Danny DeVito plays Medici, a ring leader of the Medici Brothers Circus whose prize elephant Jumbo, is pregnant and when one of his star attractions Holt Farrier (Farrell) returns from war with only one arm, Medici assigns him and his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) to look after the elephants. After Jumbo gives birth to Jumbo Jr, Medici is unhappy that the baby is ‘a freak’ and he and the rest of his crew torment the baby elephant, who is eventually nicknamed ‘Dumbo’ (in a different set piece from the original).
With almost an hour difference in the runtime between the original and this remake, one might imagine that some of the most beloved scenes and key story elements would have been addressed in the appropriate manner, but unfortunately that is not the case. The key scene of Dumbo and his mother being pulled apart due to her motherly rampage occurs much too soon to derive any true sympathy or emotion from the audience - that being said, the new rendition of Baby Mine is performed incredibly well by the talented Sharon Rooney, but it’s over far too quickly. A lot more focus has been taken away from Dumbo, with a whole new story arc of the not-so-sinister V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) introduced as the films climatic plot point when he wants to, by any means necessary, get hold of the world’s number one attraction of a flying elephant, and reap the rewards all for himself.
Even with the runtime of the film, the pacing is all over the place. As previously mentioned, the first big plot point is delivered and tossed aside within the first 15 minutes or so and then it feels like a slog to get to the moment when Dumbo first flies. Instead of a mouse, the role is given to Milly and Joe Farrier (although there are mice who act as a nice Easter egg). Recently, a lot of child performances have been out of this world but regrettably, these felt lacklustre. There was a distinct absence of chemistry between the two children and their background and relationship with their father felt incredibly forced. Couple that with a blatant romantic interest in the form of Colette Marchant (Green) for Holt Farrier and you have a very weak and bland accompanying chain of events for the main attraction.
As for the main attraction, when Dumbo first flies, Burton manages to capture the essence of wonder and amazement that you truly felt with the animated classic - however, that is quickly diminished when the same lead up and score is used a further two or three times when Dumbo has to use his ‘magic’ feather to fly and it swiftly becomes uninteresting.
In the recent Disney live-action adaptations of The Jungle Book and the upcoming The Lion King, they have truly displayed their power when it comes to special effects. Yet even with that attention to detail, it’s completely thrown that out of the window in Dumbo. When the only realistic and convincing looking creature is your title elephant with massive ears, you have a serious problem. On multiple occasions, we were created with immersion-breaking sloppy CGI that really took you out of the moment and prevents you from suspending your disbelief.
Although entirely watchable, this remake of the Disney classic lacks an interesting secondary storyline, is derived of almost all charisma and charm that made the original what it is today and is plagued with wooden performances and poor CGI, which is a mighty real shame and shock when it comes from the global powerhouse of magic.
DUMBO / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: TIM BURTON / SCREENPLAY: EHREN KRUGER / STARRING: COLIN FARRELL, MICHAEL KEATON, DANNY DEVITO, EVA GREEN, ALAN ARKIN / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 29TH
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10