When it comes to remaking a Disney classic such as 1941’s ‘Dumbo’, extra care should be taken to ensure that its touching story of a baby misfit elephant with huge ears never loses its charm or heart. Never have I expected Tim Burton to take on the task, especially since he has had bad luck with remaking certain movies (‘Planet of the Apes’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’). The task of making this animated classic live-action fare seemed like a hit-or-miss, yet Burton is known for adding whimsy to his work, which his most recent remake is full of. Needless to say, I was touched, amazed, awe-inspired, and even teary-eyed.
The moment we see Baby Jumbo (which is what Dumbo is called before the name change) slowly reveal himself out of the hay he was born in, we witness a Burton creation unlike any other; an adorable caricature of a baby elephant that seems so real you just want to reach out and touch him. This recreation of a Disney character outshines many of Burton’s previous CG characters. No more creepy aliens or scary faces popping out at you, this little pachyderm bundle of joy is definitely a sight to behold. Burton has made a character with the sympathy of Edward Scissorhands, the charm of Sparky from ‘Frankenweenie’, and a childlike sense of wonder that makes Pee-Wee Herman jealous.
While I am not saying that Burton’s remake of ‘Dumbo’ is his overall best, it definitely ranks in with some of his greatest, more favorite works. The easiest comparison one could make when it comes to Burton’s works is ‘Big Fish’ with its circus setting and Danny DeVito playing a ringmaster (only in ‘Dumbo’, he is disgruntled and looking for the next attraction). However, in terms of story when compared to other live-action Disney remakes, Burton does ‘Dumbo’ a little differently. In animation form, the human characters were only sideshow characters helping to drag the story along, either by singing a working song, or taunting the big-eared pachyderm, yet in live-action, they are the main attraction whose goals are to help Dumbo along, or tear him down.
Colin Farrell plays amputee war veteran, Holt Farrier, who along with his two children science-invested Milly (Nico Parker), and her brother, Joe (Finley Hobbins) are asked to tend to the elephants by Max Medici (DeVito), coinciding with the pregnancy of Jumbo, Dumbo’s mother and one of the circus elephants. However, when Dumbo first becomes introduced as an act, things go wrong when his ears get revealed to a crowd, causing Jumbo to get separated from her baby. However, when it is also revealed that Dumbo can fly, word spreads like fire, and this catches the attention of two Tim Burton veterans, Michael Keaton as entrepreneur V. A. Vandervere and Eva Green as his assistant, trapeze artist Colette Marchant, as they set out to make the elephant a star.
As different as it may seem, ‘Dumbo’ seeks to amaze with wonderment and soar with excellence. The original film may be a classic with better buildup, but with Burton in the director’s seat and Danny Elfman’s chilling, albeit whimsical, score, this elephant can fly once again.