The first of three live action reboots of animated Disney classics to be released in 2019 (the others being Aladdin andThe Lion King), this takes the story of a baby elephant with extra large ears and turns it into a dramatic, occasionally dark, family adventure.
The original animated Dumbo from 1941 was only just over an hour long, so to fill a running time nearly twice that, this movie focuses not just on the adorable pachyderm but also on a family whose life is tied to the circus.
Stunt horse rider Holt Farrier (Farrell), returns to Medici’s Circus having lost an arm in World War I. While he was away, his wife died, leaving him the sole carer for his two children. They are the ones that discover the new baby elephant born at the circus has a hidden talent – when he sniffs a feather, Dumbo flaps his ears and is able to fly.
Of course, such a talent helps boost the fortunes of the failing circus, and attracts the attention of entrepreneur VA Vandervere (Keaton) who decides to buy the circus from owner Medici (De Vito) and have Dumbo perform at his new, flashy (and slightly sinister) theme park, Dreamland.
As you’d expect from director Tim Burton (Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Alice In Wonderland), this is a visually stunning movie, from the expanse and imagination of Dreamland to the shabby but welcoming Medici’s circus. And Burton has populated it with some terrific actors – from the always watchable Farrell and Batman Returns co-stars Keaton and De Vito to Green as Vandervere’s trapeze artist, Sharon Rooney as ‘mermaid’ Miss Atlantis and Nico Parker as Holt’s thoroughly modern daughter Milly.
There are some neat nods to the original movie – including an inspired way to introduce the infamous pink elephants to the plot, and a lovely rendition of the tear-jerking song ‘Baby Mine’ – and a similar (happy) ending, but everything else is very different.
This version is darker, becoming something of an action adventure towards the finale, and is less sentimental than the original. In a way, that’s a good thing – for kids, this is more exciting, fun and fast-paced, while parents are less likely to end up sobbing than if they were watching the 1941 version (which, along with The Lion King and Bambi, has some of the saddest Disney animated moments of all time).
In the end, though, it’s the best movie Burton has done in years, and is an enjoyable and inventive reworking of a classic story about family, hope and love. Lifelong fans of the original may not initially fall for this new version, but one look into those adorable Dumbo eyes and even the hardest heart will be melted.
Is Dumbo (2019) suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
This movie is quite dark and is aimed at older children and adults. Children under the age of 8 may find it too scary.
Children may be upset when Dumbo is separated from his mother, especially when she is seen to be in distress.
They may also be upset during scenes where it is clear Dumbo is missing his mother.
Young children may find Vandevere slightly scary. They also may not like the creatures contained in one area of Dreamland that you see later in the movie.
Very young children may be upset when Dumbo is flying and it looks like he might fall, and also in a scene where he performs near a burning stage set.
The final section of the movie includes a chase and escape from Dreamland that may be too intense for very young children (under 6), especially when the children are trapped.
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