We all know the story of Dumbo; the story of a baby elephant with big ears who is forcibly separated from his mother and discovers that he can fly. The original film however is 78 years old and very dated, so a 2019 retelling with Tim Burton behind the directing reigns was always going to be a welcome interpretation.
Colin Farrell plays Holt Farrier, an amputated World War I veteran and former circus equestrian performer. When he comes back from the war to his circus home, he finds his horses gone, is widowed and is given a new job to take care of the elephants. Accompanied by his children Milly and Joe Farrier played by Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins, the three characters discover that Mrs Jumbo has given birth to a baby elephant and much to the disappointment of Danny Devito’s character, ringmaster Max Medici, the baby elephant has massive ears and is subsequently treated like a hideous beast.
As Dumbo is a baby, he is innocent and oblivious to the cruelty of the world, shielded with the love of his mother. But when his mother is taken away from him, Dumbo starts to feel the hurt and pain that his mother protected him from. With only the Farrier children to guide and protect him, Dumbo discovers his gift of flight, the opportunities it can possess and entrusts the humans to help him get his mother back.
The live action remake was always going to be different from the original film. The 2019 film is longer, has more characters and I understand and agree with all the changes made from the 1941 classic. Although I did miss Dumbo’s mouse best friend Timothy from the animated feature, I liked the change that the Farrier children were Dumbo’s friends instead. It was also refreshing to see human characters in Dumbo’s corner.
I did not miss the bully elephants from the animation as the same moments of bullying and pain were expressed and evident when Max Medici and the clowns disregarded Dumbo. Even though Dumbo is an elephant, these are experiences that everyone can all relate to. Not the flying part with the ears, but the situations of being bullied and judged by others for being different. But it is what makes us different that makes us special, and for Dumbo that is flying.
While I did enjoy Colin Farrell’s performance as Holt Farrier, I was surprised that he had not worked with Tim Burton before unlike the rest of the talented cast; such as previously mentioned Danny DeVito, Alan Arkin, Eva Green and Michael Keaton. Michael Keaton is always impressive on-screen and is ruthless as new character, enigmatic entrepreneur and amusement park owner V. A. Vandevere. Eva Green is also stunning as trapeze artist Colette Marchant. I must admit, the scenes where Colette tries to ride Dumbo made me uncomfortable, but the film intentionally does this to display that for animals in a circus, life is never fun.
But if I had to pick a stand out performance, it would be the animators as Dumbo is the true hero of the film, the title character and is so expressive and emotive without saying a thing. The changed conclusion to the film is the happy ending for Dumbo and his mother that I have always wanted. The 2019 retelling of Dumbo is ambitious, visually impressive and despite the changes in the storyline, stays true to the original’s core. I am so thankful and relieved I loved this film, as there was no one else I would have trusted to bring Dumbo’s story back to life than Tim Burton.