Dumbo (3 stars)

Dumbo

Beautiful and ingenious but overcomplicated live action reimagining of the 1941 animated classic

Disney's determined renovation of everything in their vault of classics continues apace with the live action re-do of one of their most charming films. The sweet, abundantly tearful fable of a tiny elephant with gigantic ears in its original 1941 animated rendering was just 64 minutes long and there was never a dull moment – with talking animals, numerous songs, frantically annoying clowns, a circus fire and the sensationally psychedelic 'Pink Elephants on Parade' sequence. All of it was in aid of a simple, touching tale of a baby torn from his mother, finding his confidence and courage.

78 years later and simplicity is not as highly rated. The new version requires some understandable tinkering (Timothy Q Mouse has a non-speaking cameo and the jive-talking crows are history) but, to fill nearly two hours, a whole lot of additional story has been produced, bringing human beings to the foreground for masses of drama.

Colin Farrell stars as Holt Farrier, who has returned from WWI to the Medici Brothers Circus, where he was a leading attraction as a trick rider with his now-deceased wife. But he lost an arm in the war so is reduced to angrily shovelling pachyderm poop while struggling to reconnect with his two bereft children (Nico Parker, who is Thandie Newton's Mini-Me daughter, and Finley Hobbins).

After the symbolic arrival of the stork with a heavy grey bundle of joy for Mrs Jumbo you know the drill: sorrow, humiliation and learning to fly, which is pretty darned engaging however obviously CG. Piled atop and around little Dumbo we also get the financial crisis of the circus, prompting owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) to sell out to blatantly sinister entrepreneur VA Vandevere (Michael Keaton) who operates a theme park suspiciously like a dark, creepy version of Disney World.

Happily, all is in the hands of director Tim Burton, so it is more than a little lovely to behold. It is sweet, it is scary, the production design is gorgeous and Eva Green is delicious as the aerial artiste diva who puts some pep into Farrell's step. There is also a delightfully ingenious homage to 'Pink Elephants'. But there is an awful lot to take in, with the Farrier family's dysfunctionality, corporate conniving, animal abuse and spectacular perils presenting themselves at every turn. It's arguably way too much for tots, and the beautifully tender moment in which Sharon Rooney as the circus's mermaid strums a ukulele and sings the original film's lullaby 'Baby Mine' is a reminder that sincerity and simplicity are more effective than heavily embellished spectacle when you want to touch the heart.

General release from Fri 29 Mar.

Dumbo

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 1h 52min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Tim Burton
  • Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin
  • UK release: 29 March 2019

In this remake of the 1941 film, one-armed circus worker Holt (Farrell) is struggling to reconnect with his bereft children while a certain large-eared pachyderm is figuring out the ropes. It looks lovely, but there’s a lot of extra plot shovelled in and it’s arguably overloaded, compared to the sincerity and simplicity…

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