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“Dumbo” Represents A Successful New Take On The Disney Classic

The recent spate of Disney remakes has been somewhat of a mixed bag. Lately, efforts like Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book have fared better than Alice in Wonderland, for example. Now, we have Dumbo to add to the fold. Optimism may not have been too high for this one, especially with Tim Burton (of Alice in Wonderland, erm…fame?) returning to the Disney family. However, this movie is rather charming and really entertaining. It runs almost an hour longer than the animated original, but up until the third act, really does manage not to feel overstuffed. Could the flick have lost ten minutes somewhere? Sure. Does it keep it from being a good film? Absolutely not. It’s not a classic like the original, but it deserves all the money it’s likely to make this week.

The film is a live action adaptation of the Disney animated classic about a baby elephant with giant ears. At the beginning, we’re just introduced to the members of the Medici Brothers Circus, run by Max Medici (Danny DeVito). Former star Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) is just returning home from World War I, where his children Millie (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) await him, but not his wife, who has succumbed to influenza. Holt used to ride horses, but having lost an arm in the war, along with Max selling his stallions, he’s given a job tending to the elephants. Max has bought a new, pregnant one, and when she gives birth, it’s to an odd looking baby with giant ears. The circus labels him a freak, but the kids discover something…the elephant can fly! Christened Dumbo, he becomes their star attraction, catching the eye of entertainer V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who has designs on Dumbo. From there, an adventure unfolds. Tim Burton directs this adaptation, with the screenplay coming from Ehren Kruger. Colleen Atwood provides the costumes, Ben Davis the cinematography, while the score is by frequent Burton composer Danny Elfman. As for the supporting cast, Eva Green has a plum part, with the rest including Lars Eidinger, Joseph Gatt, Roshan Seth, and more.

Disney has a good one on their hands here. The spectacle of the circus is on display, Burton doesn’t overdo it with his worst qualities (more on that next), and the transition to a unique looking Coney Island is a sight to behold for this actual resident of the seaside section of Brooklyn. Moreover, the elephant who gives this movie its name works. Dumbo is cute, showcases personality, and you easily forget that he’s a computer generated effect. Colin Farrell has a solid yet un-showy showcase (as opposed to the supporting players like DeVito and Keaton, who chew the scenery with aplomb. They’re the best in show), while the vibe on the whole is family friendly but not exclusively aiming at children.

This is rather anonymous work from Tim Burton, though that actually works to the movie’s benefit. You can enjoy the story without the filmmaker’s quirky touches distracting much. To be sure, there’s a Burton vibe on display, but it never overwhelms things. Arguably, you could watch Dumbo and never notice that he directed it. Sure, having cast members he’s used before like Danny DeVito, Eva Green, and Michael Keaton is a nice touch if you notice (along with Danny Elfman and Colleen Atwood on the technical side), but it’s not a barrier to entry. Burton is able to give the circus an ever so slightly disturbing vibe, without ever reducing it to the macabre. He’s unable to make you cry, but that’s as much on scribe Ehren Kruger and his somewhat surface level script as it is on Burton.

On Friday, fans of the animated classic as well as newcomers to the character will be able to join in and celebrate this new incarnation of Dumbo. The film is fun, lively, and will engage young and old alike in equal measure. Disney, as mentioned above, has an iffy track record with these remakes, but this is one of the better ones of this ilk. I suspect it will do very well. Take it from yours truly, who had zero expectations going in, you’re likely going to fall in love with Dumbo all over again. You will believe an elephant can fly…

Be sure to check out Dumbo, in theaters everywhere this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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