Dumbo – Film Review by Frank L
Director: Tim Burton
Writers: Helen Aberson (novel), Ehren Kruger (screenplay)
Stars: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito
Burton has taken Disney’s 1941 animated classic ‘Dumbo’ and re-imagined it with real actors. The story begins with Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returning home to the deep South of the United States at the end of the first world war. He has lost his left arm. His wife has also died but his two young children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) are very much alive. He finds work in the Medici Circus which is run by the avuncular Max Medici (Danny di Vito) who is of the old school. He comes from the world of circus being constantly on the move to small towns to a world where the customers do the travelling to see the circus in enormous spaces. He is not equipped to handle the changes. Then his elephant gives birth to Dumbo who is born with enormous ears and a morose face which makes him a sort of ‘ugly duckling’ of baby elephants. But Milly and Joe are enchanted by him. With the magic of a feather they realise that Dumbo can fly. Dumbo becomes a sensation and helps restore the commercial fortunes of the Medici Circus. Inevitably, such a transformation in finances attracts the unscrupulous which duly arrives in the smarmy form of V.A. Vendevere (Michael Keaton) who quickly bamboozles Max Medici. But Milly and Joe love Dumbo and discover the unseemly side of V.A. Vendevere.
Burton has created the most beautiful world of make believe. The worn paint of the Medici Circus shabbily displaying the remnants of its former glory days are with care portrayed in the early scenes. These stand in stark contrast to the glamour and glitz of the state-of-the-art big top which V.A. Vendevere apparently has under his control but do not be taken in.
Holt is an outsider with his single arm, two kids and no wife. Milly and Joe are without their mother and until recently their father too. Max Medici is also an outsider as he was not cut out for the cut and thrust of business in a changing world. Dumbo was born a freak with his enormous ears. So he started life with a palpable deficiency. Like the reality of life, each does not easily fit into the world in which they find themselves. But the camaraderie that develops between them transforms them into an invincible force for good.
The beauty of the story is its simplicity. Evil is represented by V.A. Vendevere and it is made clear that he is not a nice person from his first appearance with his floozy Colette Marchant (Eva Green). She is a more complex figure and if she were a book it turns out it would be unwise to judge her by her cover. However, V.A. Vendevere is rotten to the core which is exemplified by his separating Dumbo from his mother.
The glory of the film is the visual magnificence of the scenes that Burton creates. There are many but to take just one which sticks in the mind is a scene of trapeze artists blowing bubbles which transform themselves briefly into the shape of pink elephants. This was not only a visual delight to watch but also a glorious play on the words ‘pink’ and ‘elephant’. Sheer magic. What is hard to fathom is the entire film was shot without Dumbo. His ‘presence’ in computer form was added in the studio. More magic of a different type.
The 1941 version of the story had a running time of sixty four minutes. This new iteration lasts one hour and fifty two minutes. It enchants for every minute of its increased length. Sit back and enjoy.