“DUMBO” is the newest of the Disney live-action remakes coming to theaters this weekend. Directed by Tim Burton, the cast is headlined by Colin Farrell, Eva Green, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton and an adorable little elephant named Dumbo. The story follows the same path as the 1941 original and centers on a young elephant with huge ears that draw him ridicule, but also enable him to fly. An amazing feat that will save a struggling circus and catch the eye of others who want to capitalize on this extraordinary talent at any cost.
Right out of the gate I will say I had such a great time with this movie. It was a remake with strong elements of re-imagining which created a fresh narrative. Yet one that was still very much rooted from the source-material. It showed effort in taking the story in different angles by adding more human character elements. And while not all of these new directions worked for me, it was still very much a fresh, but familiar take on the classic tale. The ambition taken into broadening the source-material to a modern-age, but still holding true to the nostalgic feel was something that I appreciated after having just watched the original to compare. The added focus on the human characters worked to create a nice balance between their character-arcs, and the story of Dumbo. There was a nice consistent flow between both that resulted in a steady pace that maintained its intrigue.
The story wove strong humanized emotional layers that created genuine interest on their own. Then when the Dumbo story-arc is woven in it results in sincere emotional swings that made the film very engaging. Suddenly the heartfelt journey of Dumbo takes center stage and it tugs on the heart strings without feeling melodramatic. Caring about Dumbo and being invested in the human characters created a constant heartfelt attachment to the story progression which I found to be very enjoyable. This helps sell the connection between the characters and makes their unmentioned unity feel more authentic. Something that adds a subtle warmth to the atmosphere of the story-line which is what you want in this film.
Now I’ll be honest I’m hit-and-miss with Tim Burton. I appreciate his eccentric creativity for what it is. However, it doesn’t always appeal to my personal tastes. I love many of his movies, as much as I dislike many of his films but regardless, he always peaks my curiosity. I do however think he did a great job with creating a new vision for this story. There were some small hindrances here and there, but nothing to the extent of lessening the ability of the story to captivate me. He was able to create a sense of wonder to the film that was immersive from the opening scene. He captures the spectacle of the old-time circus and with his direction he crafted an adventurous mental-escape.
I enjoyed the visual make-up with a slightly washed-out look to the color design. It was vibrant but at the same time muted. Which was able to give the film a fun nostalgic appeal that complemented the stories tone and settings perfectly. It swept me up in the imagination of it all and took me to another time and place and for that aspect this film was a glowing success. I thought the designs to many of the settings and backdrops were wild and creative to build onto that time-period feel nicely. But I do think there were instances that the visual concepts had more of a “Tim Burton” vibe than I would have liked. I enjoyed the visual-appeal overall and thought it was very immersive but there were many times I was reminded this was a Burton film when I would have preferred it had more of its own unique styling to stand on. But again, it was minor because this was a beautifully-crafted film.
The performances for the most part delivered on the needs of their roles. The stand-outs to me were easily Danny DeVito and Eva Green. I loved the heart and charisma they pumped into their roles but in the unassuming way they delivered it. They felt humanized and authentic which made me quickly appeal to them. I enjoyed Farrell’s performance it was very capable, but it didn’t grab me. He felt like Colin Farrell and while the southern accent was nicely delivered it was also slightly distracting. Surprisingly Michael Keaton was somewhat of a miss for me in this role. I get he was taking it to eccentric levels for the sake of the character. But he felt a little too theatrical with his delivery rather than feeling like a character that was a fan of theatrics. I really enjoyed some of his scenes and others were distractions.
The special-effects across the board were top-notch and delivered stunning visual enchantment in even the simplest of scenes. But the creation of Dumbo was amazing and is what stole the show for me. With his facial expressions and his eyes alone, he was able to capture many layers of emotional reactions and responses. Dumbo was an endearing character despite being a CGI creation and it was because of the detail taken into his crafting and design. This gave the character heart and sincerity. It made him naturally lovable, and with the progression of his arc in the story, this genuine connection to him makes the intended messages of the film hit with dramatic impact.
Danny Elfman’s musical score must also be mentioned because no matter how awesome the visual-appeal this film provides may have been, it was Elfman’s score that created the spectacle through his musical efforts. He heightened the emotional beat of scenes with a skilled precision and helped created the awe-inspiring splendor of the circus in grand form. In the end, I do think this live-action remake had a slight over influence of Burton and the darker tone is pushed a little more than needed. But regardless it is a very detailed and visibly inspired re-imaging that holds true to the original in spirit, but still pumps new charisma into a Disney classic.