by Richard Woloski
If you’re hoping to have your nostalgic nerves plucked with Tim Burton’s DUMBO, you will be thrilled. Especially in the film’s opening which features Casey, Jr. This iconic train and Danny Elfman’s incredible music referencing “Casey Jr. Comin’ Down The Track” sweeps viewers right into this live-action retelling of Walt Disney’s 1941 animated classic. Like the original, this new iteration focuses on family and embracing one’s differences. If the original Dumbo left you scarred as a kid, this will serve as a band-aid.
The story kicks in as we meet Milly (Nico Parker) and her younger brother Joe (Finley Hobbins) as they race to meet their father Holt (Colin Farrell) who is coming back home from the war.
Home to Holt and his kids is the circus owned by Max Medici (Danny Devito) who loves his community of circus freaks and performers. Events take a turn when the elephant that Max just bought is found to be pregnant and soon gives birth to a son with oversized and expressive eyes, not to mention his gigantic ears. But when mama is taken away, Holt puts Milly and Joe in charge of the baby elephant.
The kids witness Dumbo hover in the air after he snorts in a feather causing him to sneeze, and they realize Dumbo’s place. After many practices Dumbo takes to the air soaring around the big top. Everyone takes notice including V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) who is the classic huckster old-timey villain with a bad toupee. He even comes complete with a trophy girlfriend, Colette (Eva Green), who just happens to be a circus aerialist.
As predictable as the story proceeds from here, it still remains intriguing. Keaton brings so much life as the “dark side Disney” with his Dreamland amusement park complete with a control room that resembles the Death Star. There’s even a Nightmare Island!
After seeing Dumbo’s potential, Vandevere wants to take Dumbo and Max’s circus to a whole new level. It is great to see that Michael Keaton and Danny Devito never lost their chemistry from 1992’s BATMAN RETURNS. It’s a bit of a role-reversal, and the two handle it well.
With the film writing itself all the way through, it now gives director, Tim Burton, the freedom to just focus on the stylistic visuals. I could watch Dumbo flying under the big top all day (I still believe I saw Dumbo cast a Bat signal shadow on the tent during a fast flyby). Tim Burton isn’t just a filmmaker, he’s a team that includes Danny Elfman (score), Colleen Atwood (costume designer) and Rick Heinrichs (production design). They all brought their A game to give so much heart and soul to DUMBO.
It’s easy to see why Disney chose to include DUMBO in it’s roster of reimagined classic animated films. Burton was a perfect choice since there is a constant theme in all of Burton’s films of finding your place in the world. In a time when many feel like outsiders, Dumbo is there to say “celebrate your differences!” As much as the world is laughing at him he knows he will pull ahead because of his support team of friends. It is so gratifying to see how Dumbo gets back at a few still mocking him.
This isn’t the best of the live action reinterpretation Disney has released over the years, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s fun and highly emotional. As the lights come back up in the theatre, you’ll be as joyous as a giant pink dancing elephant!
Explore more behind-the-scenes of DUMBO in our Press Conference article. If you’d like to read more about Danny Elfman and his film composition process, along with Sarah’s story of meeting him face-to-face, please check out her article.
Walt Disney Studio’s DUMBO soars into U.S. theaters Friday, March 29th. Check out this heartwarming film with your family and make sure to bring tissues!