Release Date(s)2019 (June 25, 2019)
Studio(s)Walt Disney Pictures/Tim Burton Productions (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B-
The Disney Company has, for the last several years, been remaking its animated features as live-action movies, including The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, and next month The Lion King will be joining them. The new Dumbo is also based upon the much-loved animated feature.
As much a reimagining as a remake of the 1941 original (Disney’s fourth full-length animated feature), this Dumbo takes place in 1919 and expands the story to include many new human characters. Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) has just returned from the army, having seen action and lost an arm in World War I. In his absence, his wife died during the influenza epidemic of 1918. His two kids are overjoyed to see him. He hopes to rejoin the Medici Brothers Circus but because of his disability, the only job circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) can offer him is taking care of the elephants.
One of the elephants, Mrs. Jumbo, gives birth to a baby with ears so enormous and floppy that he’s relegated to the clown act. Audiences jeer and call him Dumbo. When Mrs. Jumbo accidentally attacks circus goers while trying to protect him, mother and baby are separated. The heartbroken Dumbo eventually realizes he can use his huge ears to fly. This draws the attention of oily impresario V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton). He makes a deal with Max to bring the whole circus to New York to appear in Dreamland, Vandevere’s massive amusement park.As in the original movie, Dumbo does not speak. Instead, the elephant communicates with his large, expressive eyes, and the camera makes a point of getting in close to them in key scenes. When Dumbo climbs high up a building in an act involving fire, we can see the fear in his eyes, and we feel the little guy’s sadness when he visits his mother in lock-up. As mother and child join trunks in an embrace, one of the circus folk sings the song Baby Mine from the original movie.
The time period recalls the nostalgic look of the animated feature. One of the first images is the train, Casey, Jr., its many boxcars filled with animals. The color palette is muted, providing a somewhat washed out look, not the bright, vivid colors associated with Disney animation.
Director Tim Burton has lengthened the running time (the original was a mere 65 minutes) to accommodate the additional characters. The character of Holt never really makes much sense. He performs a heroic act late in the film but otherwise is window dressing. Keaton makes a great villain with his maniacal stare, power hair style, elegant suit, and devious manner. DeVito is perfect as the circus owner, a man trying to keep a struggling venture going for the sake of all the employees, whom he regards as family. He recognizes Dumbo as the means to reverse their fortunes.
The CGI sequences are beautifully rendered. Those familiar with the story know that eventually we’ll see Dumbo take flight. When he does, even though it’s anticipated, the scenes are breathtaking as the little elephant soars up and around the one-ring circus tent, creating such a breeze with his floppy ears that onlookers’ hats blow off. The blending of live actors with computer images is seamless, and the little pachyderm is charming.
Burton’s unique stamp isn’t evident until about an hour into the film, when we get to see the wonders of Dreamland. The early scenes move along serviceably but without distinction. Keaton’s entrance livens things up considerably, as he adds just enough kid-friendly malice to tamp down the sweetness factor somewhat. Eva Green plays trapeze artist Colette Marchant, Vandevere’s star attraction, who teams up with Dumbo in a spectacular aerial act to boost box office attendance. Dreamland is where Burton shines. Not only do the dazzling sets add enormous production value, they also serve as dramatic contrast to the tiny Medici Circus.
Rated PG, Dumbo is entertaining and looks terrific. With the exception of DeVito and Keaton, performances are rudimentary and lifeless. The CGI airborne elephant truly outshines them. Burton has provided some twists that address modern views of animals in circuses, which depart considerably from the animated original.
The Blu-ray edition features 1080p High Definition resolution with a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Production design reflects a bygone era when traveling circuses were common. The textures in this release are quite amazing, particularly the wrinkled hides of the elephants. Individual strands of straw, grain in wooden surfaces, the circus wagons, and Casey, Jr. are rich in detail. Color is muted in the early scenes of the Medici circus, suggesting that the circus is not experiencing the best of times. In contrast, the Dreamland sequence is dazzling, with splashes of bright color in sets and costumes. Performance scenes under the Big Top are lit well enough so that the audience is clearly visible as Dumbo soars over the crowd. The clown sequence features mottled colors on the clowns’ costumes and the fires that Dumbo extinguishes with water blasts from his trunk illuminate the high prop building.
The soundtrack is English 7.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio. Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout, even against ambient noise, such as crowd cheering and applause. An elephant stampede sounds a bit thin and could have used greater emphasis on the bass to suggest heavy creatures running amok. The most impressive example of sound occurs during the flying scenes in the tent as Dumbo, above the amazed crowd, swoops down and soars high. The sound moves from channel to channel, matching Dumbo’s place in the air. Overall, sound mixing creates good balance among dialogue, sound effects, and the Danny Elfman score.
Bonus materials on the 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack includes deleted scenes, bloopers, a music video, a Digital Code on a paper insert, and the four featurettes.
Deleted Scenes – Nine scenes cut from the final release are included.
1. Roustabout Rufus
2. Pachyderm Plans
3. The Other Medici Brother
4. Monkey Business
5. A Star Is Born
6. Where’s Dumbo?
7. Elephant Heist
9. A Seat at the Show
Circus Spectacular – Director Tim Burton and actors Eva Green, Danny DeVito, and Colin Farrell comment on their affection for the original animated film. Computer imaging had to create a combination of a real baby elephant and the animated Dumbo. The flying sequences were difficult to create because many things had to be considered – balance, Dumbo’s flapping ears, and the weight of an airborne elephant. The CGI Dumbo had to provide an emotional performance mirroring the “subtlety of animation.”
The Elephant in the Room – The look of the film is described as “grand intimacy.” The production designer and costumer didn’t want the film to become overblown, and kept the scope fairly small, like the original. Edd Osmond is introduced as the “Dumbo performer.” Osmond is a small man who dresses in a series of green costumes to simulate Dumbo’s placement and movements in shots so that actors have a reference for eye contact. He enacts what Dumbo will do in the finished film.
Built to Amaze – Director Tim Burton talks about transforming a storybook character into a movie. He was attracted to the story of Dumbo because the little elephant was a character that didn’t fit in. Burton has worked with the same production designer and costume designer for many years. A full-scale Casey, Jr. train was built and the Medici Circus was designed as a post-World War I traveling show down on its luck, with colors appropriately muted. The Dreamland set was built in an old blimp hangar. Two-hundred extras were costumed for the big Dreamland parade.
Music Video – The Baby Mine video by Arcade Fire combines scenes from the movie with fanciful multi-colored kaleidoscopic effects.
Easter Eggs on Parade – A narrator chronicles the visual tributes in the new film that pay homage to the original. The number 41 appears on Casey, Jr. (the original Dumbo was released in 1941), a stork makes an appearance the night Dumbo is born, Timothy Q. Mouse appears as ringmaster in Millie’s mouse circus, a hat worn by an acrobat is similar to one worn by the animated Dumbo, and Medici’s outfit is the same as the ringmaster’s in the animated film. Recalling the original, embarrassed Dumbo hides his big ears. The lullaby Baby Mine is sung as Dumbo visits his imprisoned mother.
Clowning Around Bloopers – Actors’ miscues, blown lines, exasperated reactions, and embarrassed laughter constitute the contents of these outtakes.
Sneak Peeks – Theatrical trailers are shown for the upcoming Disney features Frozen II and The Lion King.
– Dennis Seuling