Since it was first teased so many months ago, one thing was perfectly clear about the live-action version of the classic Disney film, “Dumbo” — its title character is absolutely adorable. I mean, look at that face…
I for one would be more than happy to watch a feature-length film of Dumbo reacting to things — Come for the adorable and incredibly animated flying baby elephant! Stay for the adorable and incredibly animated flying baby elephant! But it would seem Tim Burton, whose quintessential style is all over this film (and it works), decided to go another route.
This reimagined “Dumbo” begins just as it should, at the circus. As the opening credits roll we watch the Medici Brothers’ Circus make its way across the map, chugging along with Casey Jr. It is pure, simple nostalgic gold.
This merry band of misfits is packed with an incredible cast of characters and just the right amount of hyperbole. Not the least of which includes its leader — just one Medici, Max (Danny DeVito). But our story really starts with the Farriers — the aspiring scientist Milly (Nico Parker) and her younger brother Joe (Finley Hobbins). Their mother has just died from the flu and we witness the return of their father, Holt (Colin Farrell) a much-lauded trick rider, who’s just returned from the war having lost his arm.
And if you’re thinking it’s taken a while for this plot to get to the title character, I would have to agree, but I promise you, the winding plot does find a place to settle and we’re about a quarter of the way there. Having lost the confidence of his employer, Holt is assigned to care for the circus’ latest acquisition, a female elephant who is due to deliver the show’s next star act any day. (Guess who?)
Enter, Dumbo and all the heart-aching moments you know from the film, but made even more visceral when you put real human faces on the cruelty of the moment. For those who have managed to avoid seeing the 1941 classic, I won’t go into too much detail, but you will cry.
Of course, as is so often the case, from great loss comes great self-discovery (spoiler alert) and in Dumbo’s case (with the help of Milly and Joe) he literally soars. With the support of his friends and the dream of seeing his mother again, Dumbo soars and soon attracts the attention of V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) the owner and operator of a New York City mega-circus, Dreamland. Vandevere offers Medici a share of his empire and the whole crew is soon off to the big apple.
Dreamland is an outlandish, over-the-top theme park (that will definitely look familiar), it feels right that it’s where the plot really gains its footing. Here we meet Colette (Eva Green) trapeze artist, star of the show, and the only person in the room who seems to understand that Milly and Joe taught Dumbo to fly.
“Dumbo” is full of small moments like that, where very big points are made. The “Mad Elephant” label quite literally placed on Dumbo’s mother when she defends him is another. They’re a necessary update for a movie that’s more than 70 years old, but the particularness with which it’s done is beautiful.
Speaking of beauty, this film is dripping with it. Sure, the plot is a little messy, but the visuals of this movie are on point and worth seeing on the big screen (I saw it in standard def, I’m sure 3D is good too). But if you’re holding out for “Aladdin” and “The Lion King,” I understand, but I cannot speak for Dumbo…