PG. It's one of the few live action PG movies that exist anymore. I mean, the original was G, so my logic is still in place. I keep using my sensitive son as the example of what is scary and this terrified him. For some reason, Disney movies love showing peril. I think every kid goes under the seat and begs to turn off the movie at some of these scenes. A lot of them spring back though and love the rest of the movie. Not all, though. There's a lot of peril. On top of that, there's a lot of cruelty to a baby elephant throughout. The new Dumbo is scarier than the original, so keep that in mind. PG.
DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
I have a review with Catholic News Agency coming out pretty soon. I write the Catholic News Agency far more professionally. Those are mostly meant to be reviews as opposed to analyses. I also have to maintain a certain tone when I write those. I understand that not everyone wants to read my blog-heavy musings. It's okay. I highly encourage you to please read that one when it comes out. It is far more thought out than what I have going on right now. This blog space is mostly for discovery and we'll see how this plays out.
I didn't love Dumbo, but I also didn't hate it. I normally rail against Tim Burton. Oh man, do I love doing Tim Burton impressions. I know that he made Batman Returns. I know that he also made Big Fish. I like both of those movies. But Tim Burton has devoted so much of his career to the macabre. I often think of him as a one-note director, pretty much making the same movie time and again. But then again, Big Fish is something different, isn't it? It's not like the morbid look at everything isn't interesting. It just gets a bit stale. With movies like Big Fish and Dumbo, I now realize that he's a two-note director. He either likes the weird dark emo landscape or he likes that stylized version of yesteryear. I will say this, if I hadn't seen Big Fish before, I would have adored Dumbo. I know, that's not fair. Those movies are very different, but they hold the same look and aesthetic and I love new things. If I love new things so much, then why am I looking at a remake by Disney. In the review, I talk about the strategic nature of releasing a remake of Dumbo right now. I think I'm firmly in the camp of no-more-live-action-remakes. I know that the Aladdin trailer looks rad, but I also know that I've been tricked a few times now. Dumbo has the real problem of being kind of derivative and also not being that great of a movie. The original Dumbo from 1941 was practically a morality play that had some very loose character development. Clocking in at 64 minutes, the movie really felt like a longer Fantasia bit. It was so tied to its score and imagery that the movie almost can't stand on its own two legs. It's a gorgeous movie to watch, but we never really tie to the characters because Dumbo as a character is a reactionary character. The titular character makes almost no choices in the entire film. Rather, it is a series of characters yelling and Dumbo and telling him what to do. Honestly, I think that people probably watch Dumbo for the happy ending. The movie tortures this poor elephant all throughout the film and the last two minutes are happy. It's almost a reward for sitting through brutality. The new movie covers a lot of that stuff, but then doesn't really give us the reward for that brutality. The events of the original film are covered extremely quickly. Everyone makes fun of Dumbo with the exception of the kids of the film. (Shocking.) He is constantly treated poorly, but when he discovers his gifts, his pain isn't over. The other film treats Dumbo's gifts as a liberation from this world of oppression. Instead, Dumbo's power of flight, which is discovered shockingly early on in the film, is only a means for people to exploit Dumbo even further. I think that I talked about how that was an idea for the new film to develop and it does happen. But by adding this, we have a film that doesn't really fit its own genre.
It's so bizarre what the second half of the film does to the first half. Dumbo was never really meant to be an adventure story. Yeah, the elephant flies and there are so many possibilities with that. But I like that the flight is the end in itself. It's the Ugly Duckling having to prove its value as a swan. That's a really weird choice. The moral of the story is identifying value in the self. (If you read my other Dumbo review, I talk about how that moral is even problematic in itself.) But to actually battle someone using those gifts is so tonally almost inappropriate for a Dumbo film. Dumbo is a baby. Why is he fighting evil Walt Disney or corporate greed? It's odd that people want more out of Dumbo. Maybe that's the message of the story. Maybe Burton was shooting for the same message that Jurassic World offers, saying that people are bored with the old and looking for the bigger and badder Dumbo. This is the Dumbo who has to continue to do tricks and impress people with every moment. Honestly, Dumbo often feels pretty soulless because the movie doesn't know what it wants to focus on. Is the story about this poor little elephant that is constantly abused throughout the film and how he finds his own self-worth or is the movie about escaping from the corporate world through a series of tricks and explosions. Dumbo shouldn't be about the explosions. There's almost nothing cool about the original Dumbo. The elephants all scale each other, but that's not a scene about winning. That's a scene about how too many expectations are placed on this character. In the original world, everyone but Timothy Mouse are bad guys. Everyone is selfish and concerned with his own income and success. But this movie really separates the good guys from the bad guys. Listen, I'm not going to go off on this whole hullaballoo about how the original movie was so great because it really isn't. But it is way more morally complex. The remake kind of takes a lot of that moral complexity out of it. The human beings love Dumbo and support him once he can fly. But it seems like they actually care about the animal. That's not in the original.
Which leads to me to something that really shifts the whole film for me. The focus of the original film was on the animals. There were humans, but the humans kind of acted like the teacher in the Peanuts cartoon. They are in the background. Instead, we have a focus on the animals. I understand why Dumbo himself didn't talk. He was a baby and I can write off that he was incapable of language. But why doesn't Mrs. Jumbo talk in the original one. The other elephants speak. Timothy Mouse speaks. Why that? Anyway, none of the animals speak in this movie. It shifts focus away from the animal driven narrative to one where people are the decision makers throughout. I'm going to say it: it cheapens the movie. Honestly, Dumbo now just feels so generic. There's no new view. We have two kids who are archetypes at this point. We have the one kid who wants to be like his father and the other who wants to use her mind. This is Lex and Tim from Jurassic Park. They, of course, have insight into Dumbo that no one else has. And then, everyone else is a pretty stereotypical archetype. We have the widower who is less of a man than he used to be after the war. He struggles to relate to his children, but he does the best he can given bad situations. Danny Devito is the Danny Devito trope. He is his own trope. Michael Keaton is the evil evil evil rich guy who is evil because he's rich. Michael Keaton's character doesn't make a lick of sense to me. The movie does everything it can to make him evil. Again, I don't know why Disney let him make the bad guy evil Walt Disney. That font for Dreamland is just Tomorrowland all over again. But they make him so evil. The good guys present a solution to make Dumbo the star of Dreamland that makes everyone happy. Heck, it's also the easiest solution presented. Keaton's character would naturally see that as a means to make money. It's a win-win for everybody, but instead, he chooses the most evil scenario for everyone involved that eventually leads to his downfall. What kind of choice is that? You know what kind of choice it is? It's a choice that sets up a bombastic climactic ending. I don't think I've seen a movie so desperately ignore all the rules of natural logic to build up an action set piece. The movie even addresses that that was a terrible decision. Tim Burton was aware that no one in their right minds would act like that and then ignores it outright. It's such a bad choice. Like, it's really bad. The Dumbo template doesn't want to be this movie. The weird thing, and I mentioned this in my CNA review, that this is the best version of a remake of Dumbo that anyone can make. Dumbo really shouldn't be remade. There's not enough content in the original film even before cutting all the racist stuff out. The movie is barely a film as much as it is an experience. When you graft a story to a non-story, it almost becomes something else. I could almost see Dumbo working as a sequel. Maybe building up the second half of the film and focusing on the animals instead of the people might make an interesting Dumbo 2. But as a remake? There's nothing really there.
My kids were being monsters at the theater. My daughter said that she adored it, which is probably something that I should really listen to. She's seen a lot of movies for a seven-year-old. There's something that's interesting to kids about this film, so I can't completely discount it. My son, he absolutely hated it. I think it's how your kids are wired. My son and I just get depressed about how Dumbo is treated throughout the film. It's the reason that I don't want to watch The Passion of the Christ again. But The Passion was a phenomenal movie. This is just a lot of misery without the real payoff of something that is glorious. I don't really want to watch the movie again. But it's fine. It lines up with the other Disney live action films. Is it weird that I still want to watch the new Aladdin? I know it is going to be more of the same, but I also have a short term memory.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.