Tim Burton (director)
1h 52mins (length)
28 March 2019 (released)
03 April 2019
Most of us know, and love, Disney's Dumbo. Made in 1941, it tells the tale of a baby elephant born with massive ears, who eventually learns that his giant lugs give him the ability to fly.
Fast forward 78 years, and Tim Burton brings his own unique brand of storytelling to the Disney story.
Set in 1919, we meet a travelling circus, led by diminutive ring leader Max Medici (Danny DeVito), a kind of budget P.T. Barnum, whose ticket sales are dwindling as he travels across the U.S. He's also losing acts left right and centre due to the deadly Spanish flu pandemic.
When former circus golden boy Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns from the front line, minus an arm, reuniting with his kids Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), Max puts him to work tending the elephants, as a horseman lacking a limb isn't what the businessman needs right now.
He's no sooner acquainted himself with Max's new purchase, Mrs Jumbo, when the two-tonne animal goes into labour, giving birth to a blue-eyed, big-eared baby boy.
Deemed damaged goods, Max wants rid of the new mum and tasks Holt with fixing the little elephant. Not interested in the job at hand, it's left to Holt's kids to work with Jumbo Jr, and after striking up a friendship with the loveable calf, who, like them, is mourning his mother's loss, they soon discover his very special talent.
It's not long before circus impresario V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) learns about the incredible flying elephant, now known as Dumbo, and with money no object, he buys up Max's entire troupe and relocates them to his Coney Island base, where Dumbo is paired with his trophy Parisian girlfriend, the acrobat Colette (Eva Green). But Vandevere's Mr Nice Guy mask soon slips, leaving Max's circus acts without a job, while Colette is made to risk her life with her new partner, all in the name of entertainment.
Like the original, in classic darker Disney fashion, Burton's story deals with some pretty sad themes, like Dumbo's separation from his mum, as well as Vandevere's nastiness.
It's a return to form for Burton, who's put out a few turkeys in recent years, helped along with a perfect score from his long-time collaborator Danny Elfman.
It has a nice blend of Burton's signature Gothic mixed with a dollop of Disney magic. And unlike the current conveyor belt of live-action remakes, this takes the story of Dumbo and spins it in a different way; it's less about the animals, and more about their human captors - which may leave some viewers feeling short-changed.
While there are plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle nods to the original, including an homage to one of Disney's trippiest scenes ever - the pink elephants - it feels like it's lacking something. Maybe it's the absence of Timothy Q. Mouse, snooty elephant elders or When I See an Elephant Fly. There is a lovely rendition of Baby Mine by Sharon Rooney, covered by Arcade Fire in the credits, but the film would definitely have benefited from some more of the original songs. After all, it's the timeless tunes where a lot of the Disney magic lies.
However, Burton does capture the very essence of this loveable elephant, with DeVito, Keaton, Farrell, and Green playing out their roles nicely.