Film & TV

‘Dumbo’ Live-action Remake Flies in the Wrong Direction

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Since the ‘90s, Disney has been recreating live-action versions of the classic animated films many know and love, such as “Jungle Book,” “101 Dalmations” and “Beauty and the Beast.” “Dumbo,” directed by filmmaker, artist and animator Tim Burton, is the latest installation. It arrived in theaters March 29.

Set in 1919, Burton’s version of “Dumbo” strays heavily from the original, with all new characters and a reimagined plot. This version tells the story of Max Medici (Danny DeVito) and the struggling Medici Brothers’ Circus. The main faces of the film are Holt (Colin Farrell), the circus’ former track rider, and his children, Milly and Joe (Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins).

The movie opens as Holt returns to the circus without an arm after fighting in World War I. He hopes to get back in the circus ring with his horses but discovers they’ve been sold. Medici wants him to care for a pregnant elephant, Mrs. Jumbo, and her future baby. When Baby Jumbo is born with abnormally large ears, he becomes the laughing stock of the circus and is nicknamed “Dumbo” for his unusual appearance. 

Similar to the 1941 original film, Mrs. Jumbo rushes to protect her baby when he’s ridiculed by circus attendees and, when she becomes aggressive, she’s sold and separated from baby Dumbo. Having recently lost their mother to illness themselves, Milly and Joe form a special bond with Dumbo and soon discover his huge ears give him the ability to fly. 

Dumbo quickly becomes a crowd favorite after showing off his skills during an act. The movie continues to stray further from the original when circus impresario V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) offers to partner with Medici to create one amazing show, which ultimately ends with lies, turmoil and chaos. 

The original, animated “Dumbo” is a sweet and touching story but in the hands of Burton, it was reimagined with sinister vibes. Burton is known for movies such as “Beetlejuice,” “Edward Scissorhands” and “Corpse Bride,” which are dark, eerie and eccentric — and the opposite of the story of Dumbo the flying elephant. Burton put a similar darkened twist on his live-action version of “Alice in Wonderland.”  

For a story that was once a heartwarming film for kids of all ages, this version missed the mark for family-friendly fun. With a new, twisted plotline and the gloomy, uninviting colors of the set, the movie created an overall darker atmosphere than one might have expected knowing the original story. Constant clouded skies and the use of shades of grey, blue and other murky tones set an overall dismal tone for the movie. 

Although remaking it in this dark way is underwhelming, the film has good intentions. The movie touches on animal cruelty in circuses. This is particularly relevant following the closure of the Ringling Brothers Circus two years ago, which was often criticized for its poor treatment of animals, especially its elephants. 

Another recurring message of the movie is the classic “you can be and do anything you want to” present in many Disney films. This message radiates through Milly’s character, who makes it clear from the beginning of the film she doesn’t want to spend her life working in the circus. Instead, she aspires to be a scientist — a difficult career for a woman to achieve at the time. The addition of her character created the opportunity for this plotline which is one of the biggest highlights of the movie. 

“Dumbo” is now playing in theaters nationwide. 

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