Tim Burton’s new take on the animated classic captures a the darker side to the story filled with corruption – but is still surprisingly heartfelt.
When it was originally announced that Tim Burton was going to be directing this live action version of Dumbo, it would be easy to see why some people may have been slightly sceptical about how the director could put his own unique and quirky style on a story that is beloved.
But it has to be said that he has actually done a pretty good job of highlighting just how even the original story contained elements of darkness which he has magnified to good effect to bring the story up to date – without losing the heartwarming sentiment right at the core of the story.
Set in 1919, war veteran Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns to Medici Brothers’ Circus to discover that the circus has run into financial trouble and in need of invigorating. Having bought a pregnant elephant, Max Medici (Danny DaVito) thinks the birth of a new baby will change all of their fortunes – until he discovers how unique the baby is. What follows is a story of corruption, heartbreak, abuse of power – but also finding the courage to stand up for what is right.
Stylish, colourful and most importantly of all heartfelt, Tim Burton’s version of Dumbo feels fitting for a 2019 audience in terms of celebrating how our differences actually help to allow us make our mark in the world as well as our ability to fight injustice if we all work together. Ehren Kruger’s screenplay fleshes out the story effectively to reunite Holt (suffering quietly in grief at the loss of his wife and readjusting to life after the war) with his children – while retaining many of the elements that fans of the original 1941 film, such as references to ‘When I See an Elephant Fly’ (without the crows I hasten to add) and a gorgeously haunting version of ‘Baby Mine’. There are scenes that feel as though they could be sharpened and tightened up – particularly in the climax that feel a tad indulgent.
Visually the film is beautiful to look at, filled with contrasting colours that work wonderfully well together in the circus scenes. Meanwhile, the CGI is also impressive – Dumbo is extremely cute to look at and is impressive replica of the original cartoon version and the scenes in which he flies are mesmerising to watch. But the film can tend to become bogged down with trying to impress visually – as the elaborateness of the focus on Vandevere’s Dreamland shows.
However, there are some lovely performances from the cast to be enjoyed. Danny DaVito is wonderful as Max Medici performing with great comic timing and stealing every scene he is in, while Colin Farrell as Holt effectively conveys the tormented character as he struggles to adjust and bond with his children leading to some genuinely heart wrenching moments. But it is Nico Parker as Holt’s daughter Milly who delivers an outstandingly mature performance – handling each situation with great wisdom and tenderness that makes her compelling to watch, highlighted in her scenes with Dumbo.
Some might find the more dramatic scenes such as the circus tent crashing down or the climax to the film too overpowering in contrast to the rest of the plot – but it is really the characters that effectively drive the story forward the most as they each go on their own journey of discovery.
Overall, this version of Dumbo won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but despite the additional darkness to the plot there are still plenty of sweet and sentimental moments to keep it endearing to watch.
By Emma Clarendon
Dumbo is out in cinemas now.