The latest in Disney’s series of live action remakes is Tim Burton’s new take on the 194 classic Dumbo. Now I have virtually no nostalgia for the original Dumbo, I just remember not enjoying it as a young child, however Burton’s version whilst a little generic is a surprisingly enjoyable film.
Unlike the hugely popular Disney Live Action remakes, such as Beauty and the Beast, and from the looks of it The Lion King, Dumbo actually feels rather distinct from the original, whilst still in keeping with the spirit of it. The original Dumbo was barely over an hour long, whilst Burton’s version is just under 2 hours. This is essentially done with the addition of human characters, and removing the ability of the animals to talk.
So in this new version of Dumbo we follow the Farrier family, Milly, Joe, and their father Holt who all live and work at Max Medici’s circus. Whilst Holt has been away fighting in World War 1, where he lost an arm, the circus has fallen on harder times and now he is placed in charge on minding the Elephants, including Max’s new purchase, a pregnant Asian Elephant, Mrs. Jumbo. Once we get through the classic Dumbo story, where he is mocked for his unusually large ears but then learns to fly, this time with the help of Milly and Joe rather than a mouse, he comes to the attention of V.A. Vandevere, and amusement park owner in New York.
This is where the film strongly deviates from the original into a far more generic adventure that you would expect to find in film aimed predominantly at children. In Vandevere there is a more focused villain character than we ever get in the original Dumbo, and that adds a good amount of focus to the film. In the end Dumbo does wind up being a fun adventure, certainly one that will be enjoyed by children.
Burton does also managed some nods to some of the classic moments from the original film, such as the Storks or the Pink Elephants on Parade moments, without directly incorporating those moments into the film for various reasons. Whether to ground the film in reality a little, or make it more accommodating for younger audiences. Burton also does create some moments of really wonder, and joy throughout the film, making this certainly one of his finest films as a director for some years.