Written by: Vanessa Bañuelos-Dawson
It’s been decades since the world first saw an elephant fly, and Disney’s 2019 live-action DUMBO extends the magic and splendor of the studio’s original masterpiece.
The studio’s decision to remake this beloved classic is no doubt controversial, however, the world is different from when the animated film released in 1941. Today, Disney recognizes that the success of this live-action remake needs balance between nostalgia and something fresh. The challenge was accepted by Disney animator-turned-director Tim Burton.
Hosted: Thank you Disney for inviting to screen Dumbo at El Capitan Theater. All opinions are my own.
Dumbo is Burton’s fifth film directed for Disney. In 2010, he ushered in a new wave of Disney remakes with the live-action Alice in Wonderland. Film critics and fans alike know the whimsy and creative curiosity explored in this director’s breadth of work–Dumbo is an extension of that bold sentimentality, from the vivid visuals to the signature world created by composer Danny Elfman. Dumbo is the 17th feature film collaboration between Burton and Elfman.
Ehren Kruger’s script is a nod to what is familiar about the Dumbo storyline, yet pleases audiences with a different look at Dumbo the performer. If you ever wanted to know how Dumbo practiced at dress rehearsal and how he processed feelings of self-doubt, this script beautifully introduces a deeper look at the world’s most adored elephant. Coupled with gorgeous computer-generated imagery, this Dumbo character displays a innocence that feels true and heartwarming.
The cast of Dumbo contributes a fundamental element to this film that is missing from the animated version–the deep connection between mankind and animals. The live-action film centers on the Farrier family (Colin Farrell as father Holt) as they lovingly care for the new addition to the Medici Brothers Circus (Danny DeVito as ringleader/owner/jack-of-all-trades Max Medici). The Medici Circus includes all the classic, small-town performer personalities, yet also introduces them as a family facing tough decisions amid a changing American entertainment industry. When tycoon V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) crosses paths with the circus, Dumbo is given a new opportunity at an accelerated career and potential new family of entertainers, including the charming aerialist Colette Marchant (Eva Green).
For those that welcome the idea that a remake of a Disney classic can result in a familiar yet elaborated takeaway, Dumbo resonates with the powerful feeling of belonging. Dumbo’s families, both elephant and circus, face heart-wrenching conflicts, and comfort exists in knowing there is someone accepting of and invested in his happiness. The feeling of belonging is essential to feeling complete, happy, and fulfilled; the same can be said for all the animals in our lives, including an elephant with larger-than-life ears and larger-than-life heart.