By Russell MatthewsWednesday 27 Mar 2019
Above: Colin Farrell, Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins star as Holt, Milly and Joe, in ‘Dumbo’.
Get ready for the new wave of Disney classics being made into live-action films.
The extensive nature of Disney’s animated classics vault offers the studio a multitude of options when considering these remakes. With the success of Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book, it is no wonder the ‘mouse house’ would consider all of their back catalogue as options for a new vein of revenue.
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To choose the story of the large-eared pachyderm with racially offensive crows and psychedelic pink elephants may not seem like an obvious choice—until it was announced that Tim Burton would be directing.
With Burton’s reputation for creatively re-imagining classic children’s tales, including his adaptation of Alice in Wonderland (2010) that was a blockbuster success for Disney, his magic touch may give Dumbo just the lift that it needs.
When Your ‘Weakness’ is Your Hidden Talent
For those who aren’t as familiar with the original 1941 production, the gestation of the story begins at the Medici Brothers circus. A struggling outfit of misfits are trying to find “that one thing” that will bring the crowds back to the centre ring.
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Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) had been a significant drawcard as a stunt horse rider for this big-top family, but after returning from the war with one less arm, he needs to adapt – both in the circus, and at home. His wife has passed away from influenza in his absence, but his creative and self-reliant children have managed to survive until his return. Milly (Nico Parker) and Finley (Joe Farrier) have established their own roles in the circus, but it is the birth of Mama Jumbo’s baby that solidify this precocious pair their place in the show.
“Dumbo maintains the elements of a classic Disney tale: a life lesson that is wrapped up in a magical adventure.”
Anticipating the arrival of cute baby elephant, ringmaster Max Medici (Danny DeVito) intended that Dumbo would be the newest sideshow attraction. But when he discovers the young elephant’s ears are freakishly oversized, the Medici relegates Dumbo to the clown’s act.
Unbeknownst to this band of performers is that Dumbo possesses a special skill; he can fly. The Farrier siblings work to harness these aerial skills and wait for the right time to showcase his hidden talent.
On the night that Dumbo flies, he steals the show. The news of the little flying elephant spreads across the country quickly, and captures the imagination of the theme park owner, V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) and an aerial artist named Colette Marchant (Eva Green), who see Dumbo’s the financial potential.
Burton’s Eccentric, Melancholy Touch
For those familiar with the original story of the circus, you may notice that Tim Burton has kept the heart of the tale, but has added in subtle changes. The animated film was a world of talking animals, whereas the live-action version puts the focus on the humans, with the animals merely showing off their physical talents.
While the script manages to incorporate many of the famous lines and songs from the first film, this version manages to be more culturally sensitive and adds modern twists to appeal for today’s audiences.
For fans of the eccentric and inventive Burton, this production will deliver on all they would expect from such a unique visionary. One of his signatures is a dark sense of melancholy that overshadows the movie’s overall tone. To lift things out from under the solemn feel, though, are the magnificent visuals that manage to draw the audience into an otherworldly circus spectacle.
These familiar techniques of staging and tone cause the whole Dumbo experience to be rather serious – but it still captures the themes of acceptance, family and community which are at the heart of this magical journey.
One feature that seems to have gone missing from this film is the jovial underpinning usually associated with Burton’s style. Even with the comedic talent of DeVito and Keaton on board, the film has a look and feel that may be difficult for the younger set to embrace.
Dumbo maintains the elements of a classic Disney tale: a life lesson that is wrapped up in a magical adventure. The characters associated with the circus, the lovely family connection and a flying elephant will tick the boxes for an engaging family night at the cinema, but the darker nature of this production may keep childrens’ imaginations from taking flight.
What should parents know about Dumbo? Can you remember the original Dumbo? This is not one of the films that come to mind when people express their favourite Disney classics, but it has its place in the magical kingdom. Tim Burton’s treatment of the film is true to his usual form. If you enjoyed his work on Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this one will be your cup of tea. It may be a bit slow and brooding for younger viewers, but it does capture the wonder of this elephant’s tale.
What would you do for the sake of your family? Dumbo is a depiction of the love of a father and his children, as well as the undeniable connection of a mother to her child. This storyline raises the question of how far a parent would go for the sake of their family. At the heart of the Bible is the ultimate example of a Father’s love for his children which culminates in the cross of Christ. Take the time to read one of the Gospels to understand what true sacrifice really means.
Article supplied with thanks to Russell Matthews at Reel Dialogue. Russ loves film, and engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He works for City Bible Forum, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse, and you can find all of his film reviews on Reel Dialogue (reeldialogue.com).