(2019) Family (Disney) Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Roshan Seth, Lars Eidinger, Deobia Oparei, Joseph Gatt, Miguel Muñoz Segura, Zenaida Alcalde, Douglas Reith, Phil Zimmerman, Sharon Rooney, Frank Bourke, Ragevan Vasan, Michael Buffer, Sandy Martin, Tom Seekings, Heather Rome. Directed by Tim Burton
At first glance, Tim Burton would seem to be an odd fit for Disney (or vice versa). Still, his Frankenweenie was a nicely weird animated piece for the studio and he had one of his biggest hits in the Alice in Wonderland live-action version. He continues Disney’s recent trend of remaking animated classics as live-action films with this version of a 1941 classic.
Holt Farrier (Farrell) returns home from World War I minus an ar and also minus a wife, who had perished in the recent influenza epidemic. His children Milly (Parker) and Joe (Hobbins) have been raised by circus performers in the meantime – Daddy had been a show rider along with his recently deceased wife in the circus before being called up to go Over There. The children are happy to see him, of course, but they are clearly grieving.
Mrs. Jumbo, the star elephant of the circus – which has fallen on hard times since Daddy left for the War – has given birth to a new baby elephant, Baby Jumbo who has enormous ears, making the newborn the target of bullying. However, Milly and Joe are enchanted by the new arrival, even more so when they accidentally discover that when they use a feather to tickle the baby’s trunk until he sneezes, the pachyderm defies physics and actually takes flight. Word soon gets out and the kindly ringmaster and owner (DeVito) finally sees success come to the circus – which attracts the attention of visionary (but thoroughly despicable) amusement park owner V.A. Vandevere (Keaton), who wants the elephant, cruelly nicknamed “Dumbo,” for his prize park Dreamland.
The movie doesn’t quite achieve the pathos of the original except for one scene in which Dumbo, whose mother has been chained up and confined after attacking a cruel trainer, sneaks in and cuddles with his suffering mom. Some of the music from the original survives into the remake, in one form or another, although mostly as musical cues for the savvy viewer.
The movie, although set in 1919, is firmly rooted in 2019 with its attitudes towards animal captivity, which to be honest, although admirable, feels a bit out of step with the setting and is, I ust admit, more than a little jarring to those of us who grew up with the animated version. The movie is heartwarming enough to keep kids delighted, although older, more savvy kids will recognize that the CGI is a bit muddled in more than a few places, although the CGI Dumbo is well-done. Now part of the offerings at Disney Plus, it serves more or less as a curiosity. One has to wonder why watch this when the original is also available?
REASONS TO SEE: Heartwarming in all the right places.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the CGI doesn’t quite work.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity, action sequences (some featuring kids in peril) and some thematic elements unsuitable for smaller children.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Burton directed Keaton and DeVito together in Batman Returns (1992); DeVito also played a ringmaster in the Tim Burton film Big Fish (2003).
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, DirecTV, Disney Plus, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/14/2022: Rotten Tomatoes: 46% positive reviews; Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Water for Elephants
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Here Before