★★★★ Visionary director Tim Burton has really made the animated Disney classic his own, which results in a dark, whimsical and heartfelt story.
We’re living in the day and age where every Disney movie appears to get a live action remake. In the increasingly long list of remakes, including Cinderella (2015), The Jungle Book (2016) and Beauty and the Beast (2017), there’s only director who got the job twice: Tim Burton.
Back in 2010, Burton took his audience back to the land of smiling cats in the sky, smoking caterpillars and strange riddles with his remake of Alice in Wonderland. The film, which starred Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, got very mixed reviews. The enthusiasts were marveled by the magical world Burton and his team had created with computer generated imagery and green screen landscapes, while those less enthusiastic critisized exactly this. Are we still interested in films that are made with so much help of CGI, that they start to look more like videogames than actual movies?
Disney apparently thought we were, because almost a decade after Burton’s controversial venture into Wonderland, he’s back with his second CGI-heavy live action remake of a Disney classic. This time around his muses aren’t talking rabbits, mad hatters and smiling cats, but a baby elephant with ears so big they touch the ground: Dumbo (2019). Whereas the 1941 Disney classic took us to a technicolor circus where an elephant and a mouse team up and Dumbo eventually learns to fly (in the very last scene, might I add), Burton takes his audience on a bit of a different route – and exactly that’s the strength of this live action remake.
Burton has really made the Disney classic his own, which hasn’t been the case with other recent remakes such as Beauty and the Beast, in my opinion. That one was visually stunning and incredibly faithful to the source material, with the trailer actually mirroring the classic, but the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast didn’t have that much novelty or originality compared to the 1991 classic. With Dumbo, Burton puts the little elephant in the very heart of the story, but changes everything around it. Whereas the classic doesn’t venture very far from the circus setting, the remake takes the setting as just a starting point. We meet Dumbo in a small, financially struggling circus where everyone but the Farrier family (Colin Farrell, Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins) is repulsed by the elephant’s large ears.
But when the Farrier children discover that Dumbo can fly, the eccentric owner Max Medici (Danny Devito) makes a deal with the devil, silver-tongued entrepreneur Vandevere (Michael Keaton), to save the circus from backruptcy. The circus is packed and moved to Dreamland, the fantastical amusement park where aerial artist Colette Marchant (Eva Green) flies through the candy-colored skies and where creatures beyond the imagination roam the larger-than-life attractions. Vandevere wants to make Dumbo the star of his new show, but soon the little elephant and the children that guard him will learn that dark secrets lie beneath the shiny exteriors.
As this is a Burton production, the exteriors are wonderfully created, with the Dreamland setting being reminiscent of both Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s magical, pastel-colored and just a tiny bit crooked. Again, Burton and his team have made their mark, with every single shot, setting, costume and character carrying the Burton signature of sweet- and sourness. The actual CGI is stunning, as you can see the glitters in Dumbo’s eyes and the teeniest tiniest hairs on his skin. It’s enough to completely bewitch the audience, much like the characters are by the toxic sweetness of Dreamland.
That being said, the sweetness of Dumbo does have a slight sour taste, as Burton has made the story into a tale that’s as much about a really cute baby elephant as it is about the downfall of a controlling, evil corporation. Ironic, as obviously Dumbo is a grand-scale production funded by Disney, which can be considered one of the largest controlling, evil corporations. However, the question remains, is this just really ironic or was this a deliberate move from Burton and his team? It’s a tough question to answer, although an interesting thought to keep in mind while diving head-first into the spectacular world of Burton’s Dumbo.
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