The Movie Guru: Tim Burton’s ‘Dumbo’ a mixed bag
Rated: PG for peril, action, some thematic elements and brief mild language.
Screenplay by: Ehren Kruger.
Based on the story by: Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl.
Directed by: Tim Burton.
Starring: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins and more.
Grade: Two and a half stars.
Whether or not you like this version of “Dumbo” depends on how you felt about the original.
If you loved the soundtrack and talking animals, you’ll want to stick to the animated movie. If you liked the spirit of the original, but wished there were more human characters and a lot more plot, you’ll probably like this one. Dumbo isn’t the star of the show anymore, but he still manages to be its heart.
As in the original movie, this new “Dumbo” is a little elephant with too-large ears that is born into a circus. He gets mocked horribly by the crowd, and is forced to become a clown until an accident gives him new and unexpected talents. This time, however, we also get a former trick rider trying to adjust to his new life, his two children and two different circus owners with their own dreams.
The original movie is sweet but very light on plot, so the additional storylines make narrative sense. They respect the animated movie by following the same theme as the Dumbo’s story, following characters that feel out of place. Everyone here is on a similar journey to Dumbo, at least in a metaphorical sense, and it gives the movie more richness.
It also makes the end of the live-action movie considerably more exciting than its animated counterpart. It’s a full-on adventure-style ending with all kinds of heroics, all balanced by just the right amount of emotion. It’s calculated, but it does its job well.
It does, however, push Dumbo out of the limelight. Though his name is still the title, he’s really no more of a focus than any of the other characters. You could even argue that he’s less of a character, since some of his scenes just involve him being physically present while everyone talks around him. It’s a natural side effect of getting rid of the talking animals, but it does make the movie lose some of its sweetness.
New twist to old songs
The iconic songs have also been cut, though not completely. Arcade Fire did a new version of “Baby Mine” that plays over the credits, and “Pink Elephants” has a shortened, purely instrumental version. There’s also a nod to “When I See An Elephant Fly,” though not a musical one.
The human cast is something of a mixed bag. Danny DeVito is as engaging as he always is, but Colin Farrell seems to struggle under Burton’s directorial style. Eva Green seems a little shoehorned in, but Green is more warm and likeable than I’ve seen her in awhile. Michael Keaton perfectly balances his character’s outward persona and true nature, making him, in some ways, the most engaging character in the movie — other than Dumbo, of course.
Though the decision to give Dumbo human-looking eyes can be unnerving at times, the rest of the character is charming. He’s wonderfully sweet and innocent, and feels like he carries some of the Disney magic.
Whether that’s enough or not is up to you.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.