‘Dumbo’ review: Tim Burton’s magic can’t save it

After the likes of Cindrella, Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book and Christopher Robin, Disney’s conveyor belt of live-action remakes continue. The latest has been inspired by the 1941 animated film Dumbo about a baby elephant born in a circus with enormous ears that give him the ability to fly.

But unlike its animated counterpart, the 2019 film takes incredible liberties to drive the focus away from the animals. In director Tim Burton’s version, little Dumbo and his mother Mrs Jumbo both are pivotal. But their presence is relegated to either highlighting the cruelty or kindness of humans; all which is emotionally manipulative. The podgy CGI pachyderm baby does his part with flair as his face lights up in wonder, or exhilaration and even heart-wrenching sadness. Unfortunately, an audience will spot the manufactured emotions and escape the bait. But Burton cannot be faulted for these misgivings. In expected top-notch form, Burton gives flight to his brand of eccentric, whimsical and at times Gothic brand of filmmaking. It’s evident in the gorgeous spectacle of a film, featuring a sequence with pink bubble elephants to synchronised circus dancers. There’s even a nightmarish house with dangerous animals.

  • Director: Tim Burton
  • Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin
  • Storyline: Dumbo, born in a circus is exploited for his unique ability to fly and after he’s cruelly separated from his mother.

Where Dumbo unravels at the seams is its very poorly constructed narrative. Ehren Kruger’s screenplay can’t quite find its rhythm right till the credits roll. He’s constantly oscillating: at one moment, drawing attention to animal cruelty or focusing on a broken family finding each other, and other little sub plots that don’t quite add to Dumbo’s adventure. What particularly bothered me was the utter and absolute devotion to reuniting mother and child elephants while neglecting all other species that have been in captivity. Strangely, even as a character proudly announces the end to animal captivity in circuses, a man riding a horse follows immediately to perform a trick. Kruger appears to be intent on checking imaginary ‘correct’ boxes as opposed to telling a story.

Dumbo’s stunning imagery can’t quite reconcile with its shoddy script, and as a result never completely captivates. I can’t remember any of the performances, except a one-armed Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) scaling a tent’s wall, without equipment and then almost falls to his death without anyone else being alarmed. Poor Michael Keaton (a Burton favourite) who plays the evil V. A. Vandevere never gets his moment to shine, or rather menace enough. Eva Green as a Colette Marchant, a French trapeze artist is merely some sparkle in an otherwise dull story. Finally, Danny DeVito as ringmaster Max Medici, tries hard to be a larger-than-life personality with no success. In the end, Dumbo does what it’s supposed to avoid: exploiting the life of an animal to turn the spotlight on humans.

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 11:46:30 AM |

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