When the trailer for Tim Burton’s Dumbo was released, it seemed to be a promising remake. It was a chance to rid the 1941 animated classic of its racist characters, song and general twisted undertones and revamp its reputation for good. Though remaking classic animated Disney films is a popular trend in recent years, some are better left to the animated world.
To start with the worst and move to the best, the acting was simply awful. You’d expect more from a seasoned actor like Colin Farrell. Though it’s true his character, Holt, doesn’t have a lot of personality to work with, there is certainly depth to his character that he doesn’t even touch. His wife died, he lost his arm in the war, he hadn’t seen his kids in a very long time and he lost his fame from his circus act due to his deployment. Also, his accent — and everyone’s attempted accents in the film — is terrible. When Holt reunites with his children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), there is zero chemistry.
Farrell isn’t all to blame for the lack of chemistry in his relationship with his children. His on-screen children, especially Parker, lack any emotion whatsoever. Hobbins at least tries to act happy or sad in appropriate times, whether or not he shows talent with it. But Parker sits in front of a flying baby elephant and looks like it is a boring school day. When Burton made the call to make Dumbo speechless during the film, it meant more of an emphasis on the human characters. But Parker and Hobbins clearly can’t handle the extra attention.
Three other seasoned actors make appearances in the film: Michael Keaton, Eva Green and Alan Arkin. Keaton’s character, Mr. Vandemere, is the villain of the story and is dating Colette (Green). Colette begins on the bad side but quickly shifts to Dumbo and Holt’s side when she sees the cruel ways of her boyfriend. Though both are quite famous, their performances give very little. It’s almost hard to make the argument that they did all the could with their characters. As professionals who are no strangers to the business, they certainly could’ve done more. In the midst of their dull performances, Arkin’s short appearance is exciting for audience members who know him.
In addition to Arkin, another light at the end of the poor acting tunnel is Danny DeVito, who plays Maximus Medici. DeVito is another prominent actor in the film, and his character is in charge of the circus before partnering with the corporate amusement park run by Mr. Vandemere. DeVito is known for his comedic performances, especially from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and he brings some of his golden comedy to a film that is otherwise slow and lacking emotion. Danny DeVito, we love your work.
It’s important to note the film was directed by Burton, and the score was done by Danny Elfman. The two have collaborated before and are both film veterans. Though the acting was significantly lacking, Burton’s direction is, for the most part, beautifully done. Elfman also brings one of the only great aspects of the film in the score, which was moving and captivating, even in scenes that lack true depth.
By far the CGI elephants, Dumbo and his mother, Jumbo, are the best actors in the film. In fact, thanks to the direction of the brilliant Burton, the scene where Dumbo and his mother are separated is so moving that it sparks tears. Though the direction took Dumbo’s speech away, you can absolutely tell what he is feeling and thinking through his emotions and the way he acts, which is simultaneously heartbreaking and adorable.
It is because of Dumbo being the cutest elephant that the emphasis of animal cruelty in the circus is even more devastating. A part of the movie that’s easy to respect is the way Burton addresses how ridiculous and disgusting animal cruelty is in circus life and in general. A great way this is shown is through the change in ending, in which Dumbo and his mother are set free to live peaceful lives away from show business.
Burton’s choice to change the ending, rid the film of the past racist notions and keep Dumbo from speaking are all respectable choices. In a plot so unrealistic, it helped to foster some believability. It was sad not to see one of the main original characters, Timothy Q. Mouse, but the emphasis on humans made it necessary to cut some of the animal characters. Burton took an old, slow plot and turned it into something people could at least pay attention to.
There are some interesting nods to the original animated film. The beautiful song Dumbo’s mother sings to him, “Baby Mine,” made it into the remake, only with one of the human women singing it around a campfire with some of the circus troupe. In the original film, Dumbo and Timothy Q. Mouse accidentally get drunk off champagne, which brings the “Pink Elephants on Parade” scene in which they hallucinate pink elephants. The sequence was kept in the live action film, only Dumbo doesn’t get drunk and the pink elephants aren’t hallucinations — they’re bubbles.
With a tacky opening, bad acting and terrible dialogue, the movie was really disappointing. Unfortunately, DeVito’s acting, Dumbo’s cuteness and the approach to animal cruelty weren’t enough pros to outweigh the cons.
Audiences hoped Dumbo would soar. In the end, it simply missed the opportunity to be great and fell flat.