Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Finley Hobbins, Nico Parker, Roshan Seth, Deobia Oparei, Joseph Gatt and Sharon Rooney
Children often fantasize about running away to the circus when their lives seemingly become difficult. But they often don’t consider the challenges that the performers also face, and that their seemingly happy existences are just an exaggerated act. The emotional and economic troubles that plague the circus are entrallingly explored in director Tim Burton’s new family fantasy film, ‘Dumbo,’ which Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures is releasing in theaters on Friday.
The new live-action reimagining of the 1941 Oscar-winning animated movie of the same name powerfully updates the message of the classic story for modern society, while also retaining the core message that made the original movie so beloved. Burton stunningly expands on the idea that differences can be celebrated, family is cherished and dreams take flight.
‘Dumbo‘ follows circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) as he enlists former star, Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), who recently returned home from World War I, and his children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), to care for the title newborn elephant, whose oversized ears make him a laughingstock in an already struggling circus. But when they discover that Dumbo can fly, the circus makes an incredible comeback, attracting persuasive entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who recruits the peculiar pachyderm for his newest, larger-than-life entertainment venture, Dreamland. Dumbo soars to new heights alongside a charming and spectacular aerial artist, Colette Marchant (Eva Green), until Holt learns that beneath its shiny veneer, Dreamland is full of dark secrets.
The important thematic elements that differences can be celebrated, family is cherished and dreams take flight is not only exhiliratingly emphasized in Dumbo’s physical appearance, which on the outset appears to be the complete driving force behind the conflict in the story, but ultimately the dynamic between Holt and his two children. The trio initially appears to be a normal, all-American family. But a closer investigation into their emotions and motivations, and how they influence their relationships and views on the world at large, will surely make many viewers consider that differences can truly be appreciated, and family connections should indeed be embraced.
Holt and his son and daughter have a jarring disconnect when he first returns home to the circus after finishing his service in the war. The veteran is still, understandably, contending with the physical and emotional pain of losing his right arm in the war, which not only affects his ability to reintegrate into the circus, but also care for his young children again. While Milly and Joe don’t see their father’s physical disability as an obstacle, they are all still struggling to reconnect with each other, especially after the tragic and unexpected death of the family’s matriarch while Holt was serving his country.
But the trio’s connection with, and understanding of, each other is able to soar once again when the curious and confident Milly encourages her younger brother and father to believe in not only Dumbo’s ability to fly, but also the importance of reuniting with family members. Parker especially gave a breakout, memorable performance in her big screen acting debut as the fearless and heroic young Milly, in what’s sure to be her star-making role.
Burton and ‘Dumbo’s screenwriter, Ehren Kruger, made the right decision to expand the animated movie’s story to further explore the human characters’ emotions and motivations, which are central to the live-action adaptation’s narrative. Holt, his children, Max, Colette and the other circus performers help interpret the baby elephant’s journey in a relatable and heartfelt way.
Since the scribe felt it was also important that the world in the new retelling of the title elephant’s feel as real as possible, none of the animals speak; all of Dumbo’s emotions are told through his facial expressions and body movements. While the supporting animals in the animated film speak, Kruger’s decision to make that change in the live-action version truly allows all of the human characters to reflect on their situations and circumstances, which helps aid in their relatability and development.
Dumbo’s realistic facial expressions, body movements and overall design were stunningly crafted by character designer Michael Kutsche, with the help of visual effects supervisor Richard Stammers. The baby elephant is fully CG created, as is his mom, Mrs. Jumbo. The title character’s emotional journey is beautifully told through the subtlety of his eyes and facial expressions, which allows him to not only interact with the humans who are caring for him, but especially his mother.
The overall emotional and economic troubles that plague the circus are emotionally and rivetingly explored in ‘Dumbo.’ The stunning dynamic between Holt and his two children, which drives the drama’s plot as they fight to not only reconnnect with each other, but also preserve the relationship between Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo, makes the new reimaging of the classic tale gripping and thought-provoking. Combined with Dumbo’s impressive and realistic facial expressions, body movements and overall design from Kutsche and Stammers, the new live-action adventure feature proves to be a tender and endearing experience that will undoutingly leave audiences completely immersed in the story’s world.