Given that director Tim Burton is renowned for his dark and twisted takes on the world we live in, many may walk into the cinema theatres expecting just that from his live-action retelling of Disney's 1941 animated classic, Dumbo. But essentially, Burton keeps things rather sunny and kid-friendly in this movie.
Medici Brothers', run by Max Medici (Danny DeVito), is a travelling circus that hosts shows all over the United States of America. Dumbo, a young elephant with huge ears is born in this circus. The film narrates the story of how Dumbo navigates life and overcome odds, despite becoming the laughing stock for his looks and being separated from his mother.
The 1941 film has a running time of 64 minutes, which frankly, is the right duration for this sweet and simple story. Burton's version, while building on the same premise, adds several needless new bits to the tale, tailoring it to fit the modern times.
The story teaches the viewers that one should believe that they are capable of great things and not get bogged down by anyone making fun of their appearance. However, Burton manages to make the film more about the human beings and less about Dumbo, around whom the moral of it revolves.
The film highlights the cruel and opportunistic nature of human beings. But you do not really buy why everyone is so ruthless, ostracising Dumbo and making fun of him. This is because the graphics department has gone the extra mile to make sure that Dumbo is one of the most lovable and endearing creatures that the viewers have ever seen on the screen. With his massive, floppy ears and sad eyes, Dumbo has your heart right from the start. Anyone making fun of him because of his looks just comes off as an unnecessary plot device.
The film takes flight when Dumbo learns to fly using his large ears. But the few scenes of the flying elephant are not sufficient to satisfy the appetite of the viewers and are mildly exciting at best.
The original had memorable animal characters. In that version, Dumbo is helped not by the human beings, whose sole purpose is to use the animals to their advantage, but by the rats who tell him that he is not ugly and by the crows who teach him how to fly.
In contrast, Burton swaps the sassy mouse who becomes Dumbo's friend in the original story for two human kids, who promise to bring Dumbo's mother back. However, they are not given many emotional layers for the viewers to get invested in, except that they lost their mother to Influenza. So, the two kids, Milly Farrier (Nico Parker) and Joe Farrier (Finely Hobbins), while adorable in their roles, are also very flat. The antagonist, V A Vandevere (Michael Keaton) is an evil and enigmatic entrepreneur and amusement park owner who buys Medici's circus to exploit the titular elephant for his bohemian theme park, Dreamland. Keaton in his role as Vandevere is predictable and stereotypical, so much so that most of his scenes bore the viewers. Nevertheless, special mentions should go out to circus owner Max Medici and graceful French trapeze artiste, Colette Marchant (Eva Green), who have noteworthy character arcs and some truly moving scenes.
Overall, although the film is a good one to watch if you want to teach your kids a lesson about body positivity, Burton's Dumbo does not fly high as it lacks the emotional punch.