Everyone loves and remembers Disney’s 1941 favourite animated feel-good fantasy, DUMBO. Dumbo, the baby elephant is born with huge ears that allow him to fly thus becoming the sensation of the circus. Don’t expect the same with the live action film DUMBO written by Ehran Kruger and directed by Tim Burton. Burton’s most famous films were BEETLEJUICE, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS all known for its darkness and nightmarish ideas. It is not surprising then that Burton’s DUMBO is dark and gloomy. Dumbo rarely smiles, the scenes are mostly dark and the soundtrack is filled with loud and annoying sounds like chimpanzees screening, loud circus music and people yelling rather than talking normally. Those prone to migraines best stay away from this one.
The films starts on a bleak note where a rundown train carrying the circus that is falling on hard times travel through poverty America. Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) is returning by train home to his children after the war. It is revealed that he has lost one arm. His wife has also passed away from influenza. Holt is out of a job because circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) sold his horses). How more gloomy can the plot get?
More! Baby Dumbo is born and separated from his mother. The circus is sold to a conniving entrepreneur, V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) who is out to make money out of the new sensation of the flying elephant. Dumbo’s act needs to be polished and creates havoc when Vandevere wants the bank to invest money in his amusement world.
The magic of the original DUMBO emerges only a few times in the movie – mainly when Dumbo soars into the air. Even then, most of the flight takes place in the enclosed tent and if outside, occurs in the dead of night.
A lighter note is added with the characters of Max Medici and Vandevere’s French girlfriend Colette (Eva Green). Both have the propensity to do good. The end up taking Dumbo’s side. Even the one henchman of Vandevere ordered to kill Dumbo’s mother tells on the deed, and quits his job out of disgust at his boss. Keaton in full powder-packed make-up, hams up his villainous character to the extreme of being cartoonish. His love for money ends up his downfall.
Nico Parker as Milly Farrier, Holt’s daughter and Finley Hobbins as Joe, Holt’s son are sufficiently charming reminding audiences that this is supposed to be a family movie. The other circus performers are just there for show with little much to do except for Miss Atlantis (Sharon Rooney) who does a few mermaid tricks and the snake charmer (Roshan Seth) who gets to utter the magic words “Fly my little one!”
But for whatever is director Burton’s vision for the film, he does effectively capture the gloom of a struggling circus as he does on a world recovery from the war. His mark is certainly stamped on this movie.
For all that it is worth in terms of gloom vs. feel-good, DUMBO does grab the audience into the adventure of the circus and one does feel sorry for the elephant when his mother is forced to leave him.