sat 20/07/2024

Dumbo review - does Tim Burton’s new adaption take flight? | reviews, news & interviews

Dumbo review - does Tim Burton’s new adaption take flight?

Dumbo review - does Tim Burton’s new adaption take flight?

There’s a great deal to love, but it's over-packed with unnecessary try-hard plot details

Our titular flying elephant takes a back seat to half-baked subplots

At its heart, Disney’s fourth-feature, Dumbo, was about the love between mother and child, and defying expectations.

The 1941 animation was based on Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl’s short story and told the tale of a baby circus elephant with oversized ears and big blue eyes, who is given the cruel nickname of ‘Dumbo’, until those that tormented him realise his ears are magical and enable him to fly. It was a sweet and simple Ugly Duckling tale with a macabre edge, so who better to direct the update than the man who brought us Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Edward Scissorhands?

Understandably, audiences might be apprehensive. In recent years Burton has been hit and miss. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and the Alice films were corporate crowd pleasers and felt at odds with the anarchic spirit of his earlier movies. Perhaps that’s why, with his own take on the story of the galumphing, flying elephant, he and writer Ehren Kruger decided to insert an anti-big-money plot around the simple tale of mother and child. The fact that Disney recently completed one of the largest corporate takeovers in film history after acquiring 20th Century Fox does make the moral dimension feel more than a little ironic. If Burton is biting the hand that feeds him (and Disney once fired him in his early 20s), he’s doing it on the safest possible terms.Dreamland in DumboIn the original, the song "Baby Mine", an anthem of mother/child intimacy, was enough to make you head straight to the phone to call your mother. In Burton’s update it’s more likely to make you think you should text your mother, then forget. To up the ante, Burton splits the focus between Dumbo and two motherless children (the excellent Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins) who have eyes worthy of a Margaret Keane painting, and help Dumbo discover his talent for flying.

Despite doubling down on motherhood, the emotional impact is diluted rather than enhanced. Perhaps because the film is smothered with ancillary agendas. Aside from the "big business is bad" plot, we also have: defying gender expectations; hammering home that children are our future; animal rights; and finally a clumsy reminder that Indian Elephants don’t belong in circuses but in the subcontinent. The last plotline hangs on an underused Roshan Seth who is wheeled in and out by Burton for a dollop of Eastern mysticism that would make Edward Said weep. At least they cut the racist crows of the original. Of course, all these concepts are worthy causes, but together they defuse the emotion at the heart of the film and clutter the central message of the story.The children and DumboDespite these pitfalls, Dumbo does have moments of real magic. Aside from the enjoyably outlandish performances from the likes of Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito (reuniting on a Burton project for the first time since Batman Returns), there’s the pink bubble elephant scene that makes you lean into the screen, then pop!... and we are back into the overly worked story. The moments of magic may be fleeting, but at least they are there.

While Dumbo never soars to the highest heights, there is enough charm to hold your attention. All the while, there’s a nagging sense this could have been so much more miraculous – and I say that about a story that revolves around a flying elephant.


Despite some pitfalls, Dumbo does have moments of real magic


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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