Image: With the whole circus watching, Danny DeVito’s Max Medici finds the oddity that is Dumbo © Property of Disney [Source: IMDB]
In a pulled together band of oddities and marvels, a bigger marvel is discovered when the circus elephant gives birth. But no ordinary elephant is this, this baby elephant has humongously oversized ears. He’s thought to be an ugly oddity that no one will want to see, mocked and jeered by the audience and sent to be a clown to laugh at. Until a special talent is found in the young Dumbo.
Director: Tim Burton. Starring: Danny DeVito, Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Eva Green, Finley Hobbins, Nico Parker [PG]
First and foremost I think the question that wants answering is; Was this a worthy remake? As much as I prefer the original and think it may be better from what I recall. I still have to abide and say that – yes it is a remake worthy of its time.
Crucially Dumbo has always been about oddities, broken things, anomalies and rarities that while shock, maybe even conjure mockery by the rest of society. It’s finding the strength of acceptance of yourself, making your “strangeness” your uniqueness. That message is still there and even improved somewhat as other characters display “broken” parts of themselves. The irony of a circus casting out an oddity not lost, however, there is not enough padding around this main theme for substantial impact.
The narrative follows a largely superficial and surface level arc. Frankly with little to no character development throughout. Danny DeVito is easily the best part of the characters bringing much-needed life to every scene he is in, but even that is not enough as even Michael Keaton turns in an unusually hacked performance with clear lacking direction from Burton. Aside from DeVito, the characters have no growth or genuine touch and they all come across very pantomimed. Resulting in a slow and dragging pace for a large part of the picture and while there are some entertaining moments. It largely plays as a pity parade until Dumbo finds his wings. Exemplified by the supporting cast of characters, I found it strange that they all appeared “normal” and not fitting with the typical convention of outcasts that circuses are portrayed as. So they are all “normal”, nice people who perform little gimmicks to small crowds. Why is this a negative? Well, there’s no background dressing to the main theme, it should be about people overcoming surface level judgemental opinions, seeing past the “deformed” elephant to the magic that is inside that makes him fly.
It’s ultimately why there’s no big crescendo to this narrative as the nice people are still nice and the bad guy is still bad. If anything I’d say the real subtext of this picture, whether unknowing to Disney or not – might be a jab at the mega-conglomerate company itself. As in this version of the Dumbo tale, Dumbo’s talent is found quickly and finds commercial success when a larger “Dreamland” (cough cough Disneyland) buys up the small troupe of performers to mercilessly use the talent to wow bankers for cash while the original ‘company’ behind the talent are pushed away. Perhaps Burton snuck past a big jab at Disney in an IP of their own or admirably Disney didn’t mind the reflective commentary.
Further leading me to this idea is just how un-signatured this is. There are no telltale signs of the oft referred director when speaking of auteurs. Sure there are a few wacky characters and some big set displays but unless told you wouldn’t ever mistake this to be anything other than a commercial production company output. One aspect of Burton can be identified though. That being the terrific score from usual collaborator Danny Elfman. It carries a great many scenes along with the mostly superb CGI to orchestrate some touching moments and cradle some charm throughout the picture. Enough for a sweet treat and a still touching tale.