Reimagining “Dumbo” For A New Generation

By: Sari Cohen  | HFLF Contributor |

(Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures)   Disclaimer: SPOILERS! Proceed at your own risk!

(Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures)

Disclaimer: SPOILERS! Proceed at your own risk!

The updated version takes flight with a heartwarming tale about love, hope, and family.

Disney continues with its passion for remaking classics, as their latest endeavor is 1941’s animated favorite, “Dumbo.” Director Tim Burton’s 2019 iteration, penned by Ehren Kruger, stars Colin Farrell as Holt Farrier, Eva Green as Colette Marchant, Michael Keaton as V.A. Vandevere, and Danny DeVito as Max Medici, in a two-hour, live-action feature that is determined from the get-go to warm hearts.

As would be expected with Burton at the helm, each character brings alluring energy to the screen. Alan Arkin, who makes an appearance as J. Griffin Remington (the money man) steps in at one point, exhibiting a panache that only Arkin can pull off. Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins, who star as Farrell’s children, respectively, are both incredibly endearing. Even Dumbo, in all of his CG glory, is adorable – making him impossible not to fall in love with.

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The film jumps right in with a focus on the characters and their backstories. As it is quickly revealed, each character is at odds with their past, their present, or in some cases, both. Farrell plays a father who returns from war a one-armed man, disenfranchised from his kids and a life that he left behind. In his absence, his wife has died, and the horses that once made him the main attraction at the Medici Brothers Circus have been sold, in an effort to keep the circus, and his family, afloat.

Director Tim Burton with Farrell and Hobbins.

Director Tim Burton with Farrell and Hobbins.

“Milly” (Parker) having a moment with “Dumbo.”

“Milly” (Parker) having a moment with “Dumbo.”

Keaton and DeVito reunite as “V.A. Vandevere” and “Max Medici.”

Keaton and DeVito reunite as “V.A. Vandevere” and “Max Medici.”

Farrell plays “Holt Farrier” with Nico Parker as his daughter “Milly” and Finley Hobbins as his son “Joe.”

Farrell plays “Holt Farrier” with Nico Parker as his daughter “Milly” and Finley Hobbins as his son “Joe.”

The story expands on so much from the original. The updated version shares some similarities with the hour-long animated film from the ‘40s, but takes on a modern mode of storytelling, adding a Burton-style spin on it – which, believe it or not, these days appears to be a bit more politically correct than the former. Still, at its core, it’s a heartfelt tale. All of the characters seem to be just trying to find their place in the world. As Burton stated during the recent press conference in Los Angeles, he was drawn to “Dumbo” because he liked the fact that it was a straightforward story. The idea that Dumbo, along with other characters, turned their disadvantage into an advantage was appealing to him. He also touched on the human parallel in this rendition, which is an aspect that sets this film apart from the last. 

As the plot evolves, and Mrs. Jumbo is separated from her calf, it somewhat mirrors the original. Being that Farrell’s character is now in charge of the elephants, it’s his kids who discover, thanks to a feather, that the floppy-eared elephant named Dumbo can fly. Enter, V.A. Vandevere, the villainous proprietor of Dreamland who offers Medici a deal that’s too good to refuse. Once Keaton comes into play, it’s almost as if the movie takes on a new life. For “Batman” fans, the onscreen reunion between him and DeVito is an extra special treat.

Green as “Colette” sharing a moment with her flying partner "Dumbo.”

Green as “Colette” sharing a moment with her flying partner "Dumbo.”

Green, DeVito, and Keaton have all worked with Burton before, while others, such as Farrell, are first-timers. How they fit together like pieces of a puzzle is fascinating to watch. The plot, which takes a 21st-century twist on the same theme, at its heart, maintains to be a fable. It touches on things such as capitalism, greed, and separating children from their families, without using any social commentary.

The PG live-action remake sends a message about the importance of kindness, and inclusion. It’s about teaching people how to use what others might think is a weakness and turning it into a strength. It’s about a father learning how to help his children. In the end, it reminds you that above all else family is everything.

During the L.A. press conference, Burton had explained a circus as a way in which you can travel the world with other “weird” people who don’t work “regular” jobs. Green later championed the idea that everybody, including artists, at some point, has felt strange or different. The rest of the cast echoed that sentiment. It began to shine a light on how, in real life, the director has built his own Big Top family.

Just as DeVito’s character is the ringleader who is trying to do right by those he calls family, Burton brings that same heart and imagination to the table on his end. Not only will you see the director’s cinematic trademarks highlighting bold color palette changes throughout, but because of whom he brought together, you’ll be able to feel the camaraderie between the players as well.

This film has created one great big, weird family. And Burton is the father.