tek's rating: ¾

Dumbo (PG)
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Caution: spoilers.

This 2019 Tim Burton film is a live-action and CGI reimagining of the 1941 animated film of the same name. I didn't see it until 2024. I chose to watch it on Mardi Gras, aka the last day of Carnival, just because a traveling circus is kind of like a carnival. The film has a fantastical aspect, but not so much so that I felt like filing my review under "fantasy". I felt "family" was more appropriate. It was both a box office and critical disappointment, but I liked it well enough, and I don't really agree with any of the criticisms of it. Well... I did think it was more workmanlike than magical, and I noticed that word, "workmanlike" in one of the reviews mentioned on Wikipedia. Another apt word I saw there was "adequate". To me, neither of those words are inherently bad things. They're not great things, but they mean the movie was just okay. And okay isn't bad. The movie... tells the story that it sets out to tell. Could it have been better? Sure, but it also could have been a lot worse.

It's set in 1919, in the Medici Brothers Circus, though there aren't actually any brothers, just one owner: Maximilian Medici (Danny DeVito). At the start of the film, a performer named Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns from World War I, having lost one of his arms. While he was gone, his wife died of the Spanish flu, as did a number of the circus's performers. Their two children, Milly and Joe, had been raised by circus folk in the absence of their parents, but now Holt resumes his fatherly duties. I will say that I thought Joe was a very thinly drawn character, but I liked Milly, who wants to become a scientist. Anyway, Max had bought an elephant named Jumbo, who gives birth to a baby elephant with very large ears. Max is not happy about the baby's freakish appearance, but personally I thought he was cute. Milly and Joe begin taking care of him, though it's their father who had been put in charge of the elephants. (He had been a trick rider, but in his absence Max had sold all of the circus's horses.) In the baby's debut in the circus, his ears are tucked under a bonnet, but... eventually they are revealed, and the audience begin taunting him. Jumbo tries to protect him, which leads to some chaos. I liked how the sign that said "Dear Baby Jumbo" got jolted so that the "D" replaced the "J", so it now said "Ear Baby Dumbo". Which is how the baby got his new name.

One day, Milly and Joe discover that Dumbo can fly, but it will be awhile before that can be proved to anyone else. As in the original film, Dumbo requires feathers to fly, but here it's any feather, not just one "magic" feather, and it didn't seem to me like it was really a confidence-booster, or anything. Honestly, I'm not sure what the deal was with the feathers, aside from maybe making him sneeze, which would blow out his ears to their full size and start them flapping. But he didn't always need to sneeze to fly, he just needed to have a feather, which he apparently sucked into his trunk, rather than just holding it with his trunk. That was kinda weird. Anyway, when the adults finally learn that Dumbo can fly, he becomes a star attraction, but his mother gets sold, for reasons. (I may be remembering some parts of this out of order.) Because of Dumbo's popularity, a man named V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) makes Max a partner in his amusement park, Dreamland, so the circus can stop traveling. However, it's unclear to me whether Vadevere owned the park outright, as he relies on investments from a banker (Alan Arkin), who is dubious about Dumbo's ability. Vandevere is accompanied by a French woman named Colette (Eva Green), who for no discernible reason pretends to be his girlfriend. She's also a trapeze artist, which is enough of a reason for her to be around, so I don't understand the pretense; I don't particularly think either she or Vandevere got anything out of it. *shrug* But Colette begins training with Dumbo, to ride him in the show.

Well... things get bad at Dreamland, when it turns out the park has also acquired Jumbo, who is now in an exhibit called Nightmare Island, with various other "dangerous" animals. Vandevere tells his right-hand man to have Jumbo taken away and killed, so she wouldn't be a distraction to Dumbo. He also fires Max's troupe of performers, who then work together with Milly, Joe, and Colette to free both Jumbo and Dumbo. And... I've probably said too much, so I'll stop there. There's not much more to say, anyway. But there's a happy ending for everyone except Vandevere.

What else can I say? I liked the dancing elephant bubbles that some of Vandevere's performers created. That was probably the most whimsical part of the film, IMO, even more so than seeing Dumbo fly. I also liked Dreamland's ringmaster saying "Let's get ready for Dumbo!"; he was played by Michael Buffer, who in real life is an announcer for boxing, wrestling, etc., famous for saying "Let's get ready to rumble!" So using a similar catchphrase here was kind of neat. I liked a few of Max's performers as well, though most of them we didn't get to know very well. And I liked the film's ending. Probably there were other things that I liked about the movie that I'm forgetting. I don't think there was anything I really disliked about it, even if overall it wasn't as magical as it could have been. (I'm glad there were no talking animals, though.)

family index

live-action re-imaginings of animated (or partly animated) Disney movies
Disney Wiki; TV Tropes; Wikipedia

101 Dalmatians (1996) * Maleficent (2014) * Cinderella (2015) * Pete's Dragon (2016) * The Jungle Book (2016) *
Beauty and the Beast (2017) * Dumbo (2019) * Aladdin (2019) * Lady & the Tramp (2019) * Mulan (2020) * Cruella (2021) *
Pinocchio (2022) * Peter Pan & Wendy (2023) * The Little Mermaid (2023)
In Development: Snow White * Moana * Lilo & Stitch * et al.

I have a tendency to think of this trend as having started with "Maleficent," though I didn't think of it as a "thing" until "Cinderella" came out, and other re-imaginings had been announced. But then I started thinking I should include Alice in Wonderland (2010) as the start of the modern trend (but later decided against considering that part of the trend at all, since it's more of a sequel than a reimagining), as well as remembering that there were other such movies even before that. (I thought I might include 1994's "The Jungle Book", but later decided maybe not.) But particularly since "Cinderella," there have been increasing numbers of old animated Disney movies being remade or completely re-imagined, in live-action. There will be some things I don't include as part of this trend, like TV movies (such as "Geppetto"). And no straight-up modern sequels to old movies, even if they really feel to me like part of this trend (such as "Mary Poppins Returns"). Also no remakes of movies that were live-action to begin with (such as "That Darn Cat", "The Parent Trap", "Freaky Friday", etc.) And obviously no animated remakes of films (which I consider "The Lion King" to be), whether the original was animated or live-action. And no live-action re-imaginings of old Disney movies by other studios (such as "Snow White and the Huntsman" or "Mirror Mirror"). Also I won't bother listing sequels to re-imaginings, unless they're clearly re-imaginings of old sequels to the original movies; but that's just getting too complicated. As for 2016's "Pete's Dragon," that's complicated, itself, considering the original was mostly live-action, and only the dragon was animated. And of course in the remake, it's still just the dragon that's animated (this time as CGI), but I just can't help feeling like the remake is part of this overall trend. Especially considering that the "Jungle Book" movie that came out the same year uses a lot of CGI, itself.