Director: Tim Burton
Main Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Movie Run Time: 1hrs 52 mins
Review Read: ~ 5 mins
I am quite sure most of us were excited for Tim Burton’s contemporary take on our iconic Disney flying elephant. As much as the original tale of Dumbo brought so much magic into our entertainment lives, Tim Burton’s version brought diluted messaging and a slightly confused story.
What made the original Dumbo a compelling and empathetic tale is how the original Dumbo story conveys a strong message that in the midst of being bullied because of your appearances, you can still rise above all discouragement by bringing your flaws into strengths. Tim Burton’s rendition of your titular character adds in an additional layer of how an elephant, like us, can learn to flourish in the absence of a parental figure (like our mother.). They do this by replacing the original Dumbo’s mentor Timothy the Mouse with three characters: A father Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), and his two children Millie and Joe Farrier (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins). These three characters were introduced with the exposition that they had lost their mother due to the Spanish flu. Just like them, the family is left to console Dumbo and get him to learn to move on with life having become separated from his mother.
There is no problem with digressing from the original movie’s themes and messaging. However, by adding in the Farrier family and their struggles without a matriarch in tandem with Dumbo’s similar plight, the movie struggles between focusing on the struggles of either. If Dumbo would be the main character to our current movie, he most certainly did not feel or seem like he was in many ways – It felt like the Farrier family’s loss of their mother was more focused than Dumbo’s.
Michael Keaton and Danny Devito played V.A. Vandevere and Max Medici respectively. Both of them are polar opposites character cut from the same cloth. Max Medici is a circus ringmaster who bought a pregnant Dumbo’s mother with hopes to earn money and bring the circus out of financial crisis, while Vandevere is a ringmaster of an extravagant circus who also has his inner struggles. The problem with their roles is that the writing for Dumbo (both contemporary and new) really didn’t feel like there is a need to bring these characters front and centre in the storytelling. Vandevere as a “villain” could be written in a way where an unfaced and unnamed ringmaster would have led Medici’s troupe through the story and it would have been fine. It was too bad Keaton and DeVito was given roles that were either unnecessary, or underplayed.
It was too bad Dumbo had fallen short under the shadow of the original animated film. I recognised that Burton wanted to bring the original messaging to another level by bringing the absence of a mother as part of a plot. Sure, he still did touch on the original messaging for the movie, but the added messaging and themes dilute the strength of the movie in general. What really disappointed me was although Dumbo was supposed to be our protagonist, the writing regarded our beloved elephant more of a lesson learnt from the circus troupe in season and just moved on. On further thinking, the ending, although felt like a good one for our titular character, was a more sad one in another perspective.
Dumbo suffers from confused (and thus, weak) storytelling and messaging, losing the strength of the legitimacy of the main character (of which it struggles from really solidifying who our main character(s) are in the first place.).
I really wanted this movie to be good, but I would just recommend you wait things out and see if you can catch it in streaming instead – because it really does feel like it’s more of a Netflix movie than anything else.
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