Disney’s ‘Dumbo’ remake is stirring at points, misses mark at others

Mar 29, 2019, 6:54 AM | Updated: 7:01 am

Dumbo is the first of three live-action Disney remakes that will hit theaters in the next four months, with Aladdin and The Lion King being the other two.

RELATED: ‘Five Feet Apart’ so baldly manipulative in the end

The original was made in 1941. It’s by far the oldest source material of all the Disney remakes, and its plot is also the thinnest: Mrs. Jumbo gives birth to Dumbo, a baby elephant with ridiculously floppy ears.

She’s banished from the circus for trying to protect him. Dumbo is really sad until he realizes he can fly with those floppy ears, and after successfully flying in a circus act, he’s reunited with his mom.

The original Dumbo stretched to a mere 64 minutes of run time, and that included the hallucinatory five-minute “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence, which was brilliantly animated, but entirely unnecessary to advance the story.

One of the biggest hurdles facing a live-action remake, then, was expanding an already-thin hour-long storyline to double its length, all without losing story momentum. Not an easy task.

To that end, this remake decides to introduce a cast of humans almost entirely missing from the original.

Colin Farrell plays Holt, a circus stunt rider who returns from World War I with only one arm. He reunites with his two kids, who are still mourning the loss of their mother, who recently died of influenza.

As if that isn’t enough bad news for any Disney movie, the circus is on its last legs financially. Its last best hope is that a soon-to-be born baby elephant is a hit at the box office. After Dumbo is born — to much ridicule — and his mother banished, it’s up to Holt’s kids to save him.

“What’s happening? Where are they taking her?” one of the kids asks as Dumbo’s mom is carted away

“Take Dumbo back inside,” responds Holt.

“But she’s his mom!” answers the kid.

“Look at me,” she says to Dumbo. “We’re going to bring your mama home.”

Clearly identifying with Dumbo because they’ve too lost their mom, the two kids do all they can to cheer up the baby elephant, and end up inadvertently teaching it how to fly!

The psychological connection between Dumbo and the kids is a legitimate extension of the fairy tale of a story, although the animal characters they “replaced” from the original — Timothy Mouse, and the five black crows — are definitely livelier.

The other storyline expansion involves an entertainment mogul, played very broadly by Michael Keaton, who, after seeing the amazing Dumbo actually fly, buys out the entire circus and ships them to his behemoth amusement park called Dreamland.

He, of course, is up to no good, and it’s up to the circus workers and a baby elephant to save the day.

Having more or less adequately cleared the story expansion hurdle, this Dumbo remake also must at least approach, if not match, the emotional strength of the original.

Even non-fans of the 1941 version acknowledge the emotional power of the mother/child bond depicted in the film, especially during the “Baby Mine” song, when Mrs. Jumbo is locked up, and Dumbo’s only contact with her is trunk-to-trunk through the bars of a hard-to-reach window.

RELATED: ‘Glass’ takes itself far too seriously to take seriously

“Rest your head close to mine, never to part, baby of mine,” croons Betty Noyes, the singer of the original song.

Despite the fact that Tim Burton is this remake’s director, and he is known more for his visual flair than his emotional sensitivity, this “Baby Mine” sequence is especially expertly handled.

Perhaps not as tear-inducing as the original — which splices in lots of other zoo animals cuddling with their offspring, much like Dumbo and mom are trying to do — the Burton version is still quite touching and sweet.

And much of that credit goes to the brilliant CGI work with Dumbo. He’s so convincingly rendered that you’ll forget he’s not real halfway through the movie. And that makes his ability to fly all the more amazing.

Hey, look at the elephant fly!

And I will credit Burton and his screenwriter with one solid improvement of the original. “Stirring” is not an adjective I would ever think to apply to Dumbo, but it’s definitely applicable a couple of times in the remake.

The two circus scenes in which Dumbo actually flies under the big top circus tent are dramatic and thrilling to see. Burton builds the suspense, disaster is definitely looming, and then with a sudden swooping of elephant ears and a whoosh of relief, Dumbo is spectacularly flying and in the most triumphant fashion.

In fact, Burton’s Dumbo is given real agency as he even takes part in his own — and his mother’s — rescue.

In the end, Dumbo not only owns his outsize ears and revels in them as he does in the original, he also uses them to help himself and others. In this remake, Dumbo is his own hero, and that’s quite an accomplishment.

Tom Tangney on KIRO Radio

Tom Tangney

Last Duel...
Tom Tangney

Poor Marguerite’s story saves ‘The Last Duel’

Tom Tangney says, ultimately, The Last Duel is a proto-feminist take on the Middle Ages with Marguerite's take that brings the film into focus.
3 days ago
James Bond...
Tom Tangney

Daniel Craig’s final James Bond movie comes full-circle

The 25th installment in the James Bond movie franchise may be titled "No Time to Die," but "Too Much Time to Die" may be more fitting.
11 days ago
Egyptian Theater...
Tom Tangney

Seattle’s Egyptian Theater hosts SIFF’s first ever documentary film festival

Seattle's Egyptian Theater is hosting SIFF's first ever documentary film festival. Dubbed DocFest, the weeklong festival features 13 separate titles.
18 days ago
Tom Tangney

A letter: ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ the movie

Dear Evan Hansen, The Movie: I'm sorry I didn't like you as much as you wanted me to. I tried, I really, really tried.
24 days ago
nine days...
Tom Tangney

‘Nine Days’ is about as life-affirming a movie as there can be

Nine days to live. That's the premise of this new, refreshingly original movie called "Nine Days." But that premise is not what you think.
2 months ago
Tom Tangney

‘Stillwater’ does not run deep enough

Written and directed by Oscar-winning Tom McCarthy, 'Stillwater' is a contemporary story about a father's attempt to free his daughter from a French prison. 
3 months ago

Sponsored Articles


How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Courtesy of JWatch Photography....
Experience Anacortes

Summer Fun Activities in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
Disney’s ‘Dumbo’ remake is stirring at points, misses mark at others