Dumbo (2019)

Dumbo soars on gilded ears!

Let me preface this by telling you that I suffer from bouts of what might best be described as a minor case of major depression.  For me, that means that I’m not as often sobbing all the time as I am ambivalent to most things.  So believe me when I say that no one was as surprised as me when I found myself having to sit through the entire end credits of Dumbo just to collect myself after the emotional roller coaster I had been on.   This movie was made to make people feel things and it did!

I know a lot of people will say it’s not sad enough, or happy enough, or scary enough, or creepy enough, or joyous enough, or Tim Burton-ey enough, or Disney-ey enough (although it’s uncomfortably a little too Disney-ey in my opinion…more on that in a second), but for me it was just about perfect.

If I have a criticism, it’s that I felt that the acting was a little lackluster, which is odd given the exceptional cast (Eva Green is practically my touchstone for anything good).  Maybe it was just because Dumbo stole the show, but I feel like with a little more direction all their performances might have carried more weight.

I don’t remember much about the original animated feature other than being scarred for life when Dumbo was taken away from his mama, so I can’t give you a rundown of the plot points that were kept or discarded.  But somehow the creators of this movie managed to take a film that was so dated by its anecdotal racism and animal cruelty that one might consider it unwatchable by today’s audience and turn it into something completely new.  If Disney has had its golden age and then its renaissance, Dumbo is surely a work of its rebirth.  Even the soundtrack was given new life with “Casey Junior” chugging along with a new beat and a straight-up smiling steam engine.

I’m actually not a fan of these live action Disney remakes.  It seems like a lazy cash-grab to just redo what you’ve already done with more technologically advanced animation (notice I didn’t say “better”) and an actual cast.  I went into this movie planning to imagine it was a prequel to Tim Burton’s Big Fish, maybe seeing what was going on with Danny Devito before he became a werewolf, but within minutes I was lost in this little baby elephant’s story and it’s all his.  Burton has a way with creepy, a way with sad and a way with cutesy.  Sweet, lonely, triumphant, expressive Dumbo embodies it all.  If Tim Burton has a spirit animal, surely it’s this flying elephant.

Now for the elephant in the room, so to speak.  This new Disney story is about a small business being absorbed by a giant corporation that relies on the bulk of its profits from a theme park that is run by a egomaniacal, disingenuous robber baron who capitalizes on his ability to manipulate people and make them “believe.”  To be clear, I’m talking about the script of Dumbo, not the people who own it.  For a second I had to wonder if the irony just went unnoticed, but it’s so beyond overt down to the theme park’s stylized “lands” that I’m left to assume that someone on the studio’s board thought it would be cool to make fun of themselves.  Only, they weren’t making fun—this was a really bad person who did horrible things to the people (and animals) he employed.  I’m curious if that risk will be rewarded or if someone is putting their plants in a cardboard box right now.

Befuddling (and likely hypocritical) cautionary tales of corporate greed aside, the movie still resonated with me nonetheless and I have absolutely no idea why.  I guess, for a minute, it reminded me that I can do anything if I believe in myself…with or without a magic feather.

So, recognizing I am not a fan of these remakes, after watching this even I have to say:  “Hurry up Mr. Burton and give me my Lilo & Stitch!”


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