Director Tim Burton’s Dumbo is the first in a run of four live action Disney remakes due to light up the silver screen this year. So what happens when an animation has humanity breathed into its foundations? It changes the perspective. Our adorable elephantine protagonist while still the undisputed star of the show finds himself flanked by an entourage of human co-stars vying for the spotlight. From Colin Farrell’s injured soldier returning from war to his science-loving daughter (Nico Parker) and the vivacious aerial artist Colette Marchant (played by Eva Green), the CGI baby elephant of 2019 has them all hanging off his ears.
Soaring towards an estimated $60 million opening weekend, Dumbo will likely be among the first (along with Captain Marvel) to join a library of Disney favourites this year with the much-anticipated launch of its streaming service Disney+. 2019 is shaping up to be a bumper year for Disney and if Dumbo is anything to go by, we’re in for an exhilarating ride.
We chug into action with Danny Devito’s ringmaster, Max Medici, leading the charge. He has high hopes that the impending birth of a new baby elephant will rejuvenate his struggling circus, which is mid-tour across the USA. All the usual suspects are at play, with a Strong Man, snake charmer, clown act and horse tamer… except while Holt Farrier (Farrell) was away at war, Medici sold his horses which means he is now tasked with the elephants. Albeit the man is one arm down.
Dumbo however is not what anyone was expecting, least of all Medici, who sells Dumbo’s mother Mrs Jumbo, leaving a bereft Dumbo without purpose. Until, with the help of Holt’s children, he discovers a use for those big ears of his. It is Millie Farrier’s pursuit of science and experimentation that leads to the remarkable discovery. Her own journey travels alongside that of Dumbo’s in this beautifully shot picture. Not interested in following in her parents’ circus footsteps, Millie is yearning for something more.
I really enjoyed the layer of humanity applied to Dumbo’s story as both the little elephant with the big ears and the little girl with the big dreams strive to prove the world around them wrong. Who says girls can’t be scientists, are they the same people who say elephants can’t fly?
Encouraged by the Holt children, and with the help of that iconic feather, Dumbo learns how to fly in order to raise funds to return his mother to him. However, word of his unique talent reaches the ears of entertainment king V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) who makes Medici an offer he can’t refuse. So upgrading a dusty circus tent for the glittering Dreamland amusement park, Dumbo and his friends find themselves in a world where the impossible is possible and all is not as it seems.
Beneath its exciting and glittering veneer, is Dreamland hiding something evil? Is it the banker with high expectations? Or the entrepreneur with harsh requirements and an absence of caring for anything but the show? Certainly his request to remove the safety nets meant to cushion Colette and Dumbo’s first live performance is an odd one. Will Holt and Medici’s people see through the charm before it’s too late?
Dumbo’s alarming discovery that his mother is at Dreamland, shackled inside scary attraction Nightmare Island triggers a sequence of events that set the screen alive with explosive action and suspense. We’re all rooting for the good to triumph and for Dumbo and his mother to be safely and happily reunited. A complex escape plan is put in motion, utilising every circus skill at hand and drawing the story to its compelling conclusion.
Plenty of elements from the classic tale find their place in this enchanting retelling, adding a beautiful sense of nostalgia to those of us who grew up with the original. In particular, the pink elephants on parade sequence was one of my favourite moments, cleverly updated for the modern-day and minus the drunken Dumbo of the cartoon version.
Though, like its live action predecessors with a penchant for rewriting history, this Dumbo offers a grittier, more realistic look at the world of circus and entertainment. Where the show may be the thing in theory but money and celebrity are the things in principle and there are plenty of dark figures hanging in the wings hoping to get a share of it. That being said, I have no doubt this latest live action Disney iteration will ignite the magic and wonder in the young audience it is intended for. So make a date with Dumbo this coming school holidays and watch what happens when an elephant flies.
Dumbo is in cinemas nationwide from 28 March 2019.