Dumbo (2019) Review

Dumbo (2019) movie posterSynopsis
A young elephant, whose oversized ears enable him to fly, helps save a struggling circus, but when the circus plans a new venture, Dumbo and his friends discover dark secrets beneath its shiny veneer. (via IMDb)

Dumbo, Walt Disney’s fourth animated feature, is a beloved film. It tells the story of a baby elephant who is ridiculed for is enlarged ears but learns to embrace his differences and gains the confidence to be himself. When it was announced that this cherished classic was going to be remade with Tim Burton at the helm, I thought he was the best director to bring everyone’s favorite baby pachyderm to live-action. I was mistaken in my assumption.

Until my recent rewatch of the 1941 original, I forgot how bright and colorful the film was. Vivid watercolors brought the world to life. Towards the end of the film is the famous β€œPink Elephants on Parade” sequence. This psychedelic scene is what I remembered most about Dumbo and why I believed Burton was a perfect fit for the remake. However, looking back at the original, as well as Burton’s past filmography, the styles couldn’t be more different. Burton didn’t stray away from his usual visual style so the colors were very neutral and muted. Compared to the source material, it’s a stark contrast.

If you don’t remember, Walt’s Dumbo clocks in at 63 minutes. One reason why it was able to have such a comparatively short run time is because it completely focuses on the titular Dumbo, maintaining a minimal list of side characters. Burton’s take can’t decide if it wants to put the spotlight on Dumbo, elephant trainer Holt Farrier (Collin Farrell), or his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). This lack of focus creates a lack of cohesion. No one character feels fully developed. And in a sense, that doesn’t make Dumbo’s own movie about him. Rather, he is used more as a device to move the story along.

With any remake, there is should be a fresh take on the source material or expansion of the story. Burton opts for the latter. He moves the second half of the movie away from the circus and to an amusement park run by Michael Keaton’s mustache-twirling entertainment mogul VA Vandevere. This creates even more complexity in the story, and attempts add depth to Danny DeVito’s character, making the story even less focused.

I should probably at least talk about some of the things I like before you think I’m eviscerating the film. Even with not knowing who exactly to focus its attention on, it does tell its story through Milly and Joe. This works well because it allows the audience to see and experience the awe of a flying elephant through a child’s point-of-view.

Dumbo, along with the other CGI animals, all look fantastic. Burton does have an eye for grandeur, so both the circus environment and Vandevere’s amusement park, aptly called Dreamland, feel big and boisterous. Despite my feelings about Burton’s style for the film, his style was well suited to make an elephant fly and the environments feel fantastical.

I thought Dumbo was OK 😐 I don’t mean to compare it to the 1941 original so much but when Disney’s goal is explicitly to adapt their animated classic into live-action, it’s hard not to. And when you compare the two, there really is no comparison. I do appreciate Tim Burton’s effort to add to the original story and adding his own style to it. Unfortunately, in doing so, he removed much of what makes the original so timeless and revered.


Cast & Crew
Tim Burton – Director
Ehren Kruger – Screenplay
Danny Elfman – Composer

Collin Farrell – Holt Farrier
Nico Parker – Milly Farrier
Finley Hobbins – Joe Farrier
Danny DeVito – Max Medici
Michael Keaton – VA Vandevere
Eva Green – Colette Marchant
Alan Arkin – J. Griffin Remington
Roshan Seth – Pramesh Singh
Deobia Oparei – Rongo
Sharon Rooney – Miss Atlantis

Dumbo (1941) Review

Dumbo movie posterSynopsis
Ridiculed because of his enormous ears, a young circus elephant is assisted by a mouse to achieve his full potential. (via IMDb)

During Disney’s long history of animated films, the studio has always pushed the envelope of what animated films were capable of. This is especially true during Disney’s Golden Age when they were pioneering the medium. While all of the movies from the time period are considered classics, Dumbo stands out among them as a truly unique and touching film.

Even among Disney’s early films, Dumbo‘s animation is unique. Mostly due to the budget constraints of the film, the animation is very simplistic compared to movies like Pinocchio or Bambi. The backgrounds are plain. By that I mean they are straightforward and uncomplicated. You can glean over them quickly and take in every detail with ease. Vibrant watercolors make them pop, adding a depth to the uncluttered arrangements.

Having not seen this movie for several years, I forgot how musical it is. Right from the start, it has you tapping your foot. β€œCasey Junior” screams classic Americana. β€œBaby Mine,” nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 14th Academy Awards in 1942, brings a surge of emotion, especially when combined with the affectionate animation that occurs while it’s playing. β€œWhen I See an Elephant Fly” offers some of the greatest wordplay in any early Disney film. Finally, I can’t talk about the music in Dumbo without bringing up β€œPink Elephants on Parade.” Both musically and visually there is a lot going on. The song itself jumps around in temp and volume and the animation is one of the weirdest, yet most unique, pieces of animation I have ever seen. However, it is a fantastic display of what animation can do. It truly is a one-of-a-kind sequence, even all these years later.

Everyone can relate to Dumbo and his story. He is a young elephant who gets mocked for having exceptionally large ears. That struggle with dealing with getting ridiculed happens to many people. Since Dumbo never speaks throughout the entire film, it is easy for the viewer to project themselves onto Dumbo and use him as a vehicle to overcome their own hardships. Dumbo meets Timothy Mouse (Edward Brophy), who looks past his large ears and sees him as a friend, not some weirdo. With Timothy’s help, Dumbo learns to use what many made fun of him about, what made him an outcast, and learns how to channel it into his greatest strength and using it to positively set him apart from the other elephants. He also learned to believe in himself and have the confidence to embrace his differences. This message is universal, and is a particularly powerful message for kids. This message is why this film has lived on for over seven decades. Everyone has something unique about them and should be celebrated, not scorned, and they should be confident in themselves to share it.

I thought Dumbo was GREAT πŸ˜€ What makes this film such fun experience is that it has a little bit of everything. It makes you smile, it makes you cry, and it makes you sing and dance. Dumbo is classic Disney at its best. It has endured for over 70 years and I have no doubt it will endure for another 70 more.


Cast & Crew
Ben Sharpsteen – Director
Joe Grant – Writer
Dick Huemer – Writer
Frank Churchill – Composer
Oliver Wallace – Composer

Edward Brophy – Timothy Q. Mouse (voice)
Sterling Holloway – Mr. Stork (voice)
Verna Felton – The Elephant Monarch (voice)
Noreen Gammill – Catty the Elephant (voice)
Dorothy Scott – Giddy the Elephant (voice)
Sarah Selby – Prissy the Elephant (voice)
Cliff Edwards – Jim Crow (voice)
James Baskett – Fat Crow (voice)
Jim Carmichael – Straw-Hat Crow (voice)
Hall Johnson – Preacher Crow (voice)
Nick Stewart – Glasses Crow (voice)
Herman Bing – The Ringmaster (voice)