The original animated film, ‘Dumbo’ was first released in 1941 and was based on a story written by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl for testing the prototype of a children’s toy called ‘Roll-A-Book’. The animated movie is a mere one hour and four minutes long and is full of foot-tapping songs, great background music, basic but innovative animation for its time and a heart-warming plot. Even more than seven decades later, the charm of its simple, yet powerful story-telling, has not faded away.
‘Dumbo’ was my first ever Disney movie. I can recall watching it over and over again as a little girl. My eyes turning as wide as Dumbo’s ears when he flies, glued to the TV set, Disney working its magic on me. Having grown up with this movie, I was very excited for its remake. Tim Burton’s 2019 remake of Dumbo, which is one hour and fifty-two minutes long, opens to the happy-go-lucky, it’s-such-a-wonderful-day, cheerful tune of the original film that sets the circus train in motion, touring through a 1919 Florida as a hit act of showmanship. The bankruptcy of the circus, the dull, drab atmosphere among the troupe, a war ravaged, handicapped Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) and the death of the mother of his children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), are depressive enough to question whether they belong in a children’s movie. A glimpse of the circus troupe with their introductions is in place instead of the focus on all the animals of the circus as was in the original with Roshan Seth playing an Indian snake charmer of the name Pramesh. His role was so small, it may as well have been a cameo! The ringmaster, a short, stout and bellied man in the original is played by Danny DeVito as owner of the ‘Medici Circus’. It seems as though he was cast more for the similarity of appearance to the animated character than histrionic skills, because DeVito gives a passable, luke-warm performance. Colin Farrell is convincing as the distant and sour dad in the first half of the film, and really picks up his character in the second half when he becomes the understanding father to his motherless children. The child actors hardly depict child- like qualities and are shown as small beings who had to grow up too fast amidst the changing times and their mother’s demise. Michael Keaton as the manipulative and ambitious Mr.Vandevere, entrepreneur of ‘Dreamland Circus’ puts up a standard villain act with nothing great to offer. Eva Green as the French trapeze artist is very convincing with the French accent and looks unearthly pristine as the ‘Queen of the Heavens’ (her stage name) during her trapeze performances.
Enough coverage is not given to any of the characters in the story build up, as the whole movie seems to be a series of events leading to another series of events, the consequences of which end in a series of events. It’s as if certain scenes and dialogues are chosen from the animated film as pillars around which the remake is made, each scene merely a thread to link one pillar to the other. Like choosing the garnish first and then making a dish to fit the garnish instead of the other way round. The result of which is a half-cooked meal, with too much garnish, less flavour and almost no edible portions. Also very crude is the way in which dialogues from the animated film are taken as if to say, ‘Look, we haven’t forgotten the original’. For those who have seen the animated film beforehand, some of these dialogues will serve as wondrous realisations of forming a connection between the animated film and the remake, however, most feel like a copy-pasted version of tactical dialogue play.
Jumbo Junior (Dumbo) in the remake will incite an ‘aww’ reaction because he too, like his animated counterpart, is super, super cute. The soul stirring mother-child relationship portrayed in the animated film is set aside in the remake and almost feels like a sidebar. The harrowing and heart wrenching ordeal of being separated from one’s mother is also not intensely illustrated. Innocently sweet and endearing, playful moments of Dumbo with his mother from the animated film are not presented, because the remake dives headfirst into the plot, with little or no regard to the beautiful and impassioned relationship of mothers and their children, which, even in the animal kingdom, is painted with such engaging purity. More screen time to Dumbo and his mother would have lifted this movie up to the quality of its original.
Apart from playing spot the differences, the parade, the bubble animations and many other scenes are retained places in the remake, although they seem frugal and dismal compared to their animated versions. The major highlight of the animated film was Dumbo’s only companion, Timothy the mouse, who raises his spirits and helps him get his mother back. He is replaced by the child actors in the remake. Their roles compared to this gutsy, energetic mouse are extremely disappointing. The animated movie had so many feet jiggling songs, Burton could have made a musical remake out of those alone! The colourful music is retained in only a few scenes, with the winsome song, ‘Oh Baby of Mine’ playing during the credits. Although, the cool, hipster, beat-boxing song of the crows was completely eliminated.
The life lessons and cruel realities represented in the remake are way more advanced for children and are more suited to the brain size of pre-teens and teenagers. The movie is missing in humour, and comes across as ‘heavy’ for what should have been its target audience.
A remake is an opportunity to be creative, and in this regard, Burton secures the position of a runner-up with a few pleasant, smile- inducing, completely original stills from the film along with some exact re-enactments of puns, underlying concepts, costumes and clowns. On the whole, the movie feels rushed, well thought out, but the execution of which, it seems, was done in a hurry. It is very despondent to see that the man who gave us, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ made such a poor, ghost of an imitation of the enchanting ‘Dumbo’.
Disney movies are usually made out of happiness, inspiration and a hint of magic dust. The only magic dust this remake had was in the dialogue of Alan Arkin’s character, the money man. I give it 2.5 chirps.