DUMBO is a heart-warming family adventure and a surprising delight. Several times throughout, I found myself grinning from ear to ear.
The original animated feature is such a unique and special part of Disney history so turning that story into a feature-length live action film required a finesse and carefully broadened story that Tim Burton somehow managed to deliver. It seems on first glance an odd pairing of director and source material and yet it somehow works; it’s the right balance of whimsy and heart with the filmmaker’s trademark off-kilter style. Paired with the irresistible combination of music by Danny Elfman and it’s the finishing touch for a beautiful movie for all ages to enjoy.
Adapting the original 64-minute animated feature is certainly no enviable feat and yet the the new film catpures sweetness of the original so magically; that’s perhaps the most successful component of the film. You care for Dumbo, you feel his tears, and you revel when he finally takes to the air.
Although despite a CGI-heavy approach — and truthfully not super convincingly done in parts — the heart of the film still shines through the plastic-feeling artificial world. Even though Dumbo comes across as a clearly artificial elephant (complete with enormous baby blue eyes) he is still so completely adorable and oddly authentic that it works. It’s almost akin to something like ROGER RABBIT where characters are clearly separate from the physical world but they still render a performance that transcends the visual limitations.
Certainly, a clearly fake main character was not the intent but the character still works. Little nuanced moments in his performance — from small flinches to the wide-eyed glances and blinks — he completely comes across as a likable and sympathetic hero. Without this crucial element, the rest of the film would have most certainly been for naught. Thankfully, Dumbo as a character absolutely soars.
So that brings us to the wide array of humans who bring more dramatic dimension into the fold. Colin Farrell as Holt Farrier serves well a surprisingly affable character; a widowed war veteran and former circus star. He takes charge of the circus elephants and also balances single fatherhood with his precocious children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). Danny Devito delivers a delightful performance as the Medici Bros. Circus owner and ringmaster. Eva Green provides interesting dimension as Collette Marchant, a trapeze artist under the oppressive grip of Dreamland’s charms.
The story finds additional charms by organically folding in the Medici Circus artists who form an effective band of entertainers who help save the day at the end of the film, they factor in and out of the story in perfect dosage.
Seeing Danny Devito in a Burton film is surely a delight and when you add Michael Keaton (as Dreamland amusement park owner V. A. Vandevere) into the mix it ensures a goofy cast of characters that will attract its own special magic. The only thing that would have made it more perfect was the addition of Michelle Pfeiffer to the cast but that’s a bat of a different color.
If you’re curious, there’s no talking animals here so while Timothy the mouse is certainly represented, he’s by no means a character of importance here. The crows are mercifully absent but nods to their enchanting song are definitely present. Other tributes and homages to the original film include an appearance by a stork, the oh-so-tender moment featuring the indelible “Baby of Mine,” and a decidedly booze-free interpretation of some very bubbly pink elephants. Musical cues and nods also abound. Oh, and Michael Buffer, for some reason, it’s completely random but it works?
The end result is a beautiful film that will touch the soul and bring some laughs and maybe a few tears. A perfect Burton film? No, but this circus does not short-change you and it shouldn’t disappoint at the box office, either.
See it for Yourself
DUMBO flies into theaters March 29, 2019.