“That baby’s got a face only a mother could love!” says Max Medici (Danny DeVito), owner/ringmaster of Medici Brothers Traveling Circus. It’s 1919 and we’re in Sarasota, Florida. Mrs. Jumbo Elephant is the mother; Dumbo is her big-eared baby. “And make those ears disappear!” Max says to Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), former circus trick rider, now minus his left arm — lost in World War I — who tends the elephants. That’s the setup for this disappointing, live-action (and animated) re-make of Disney’s 1941 classic animated feature, “Dumbo.”
Why must Dumbo’s mother leave the Medici Circus? Will motherless Dumbo get over his grief? How does Dumbo learn to fly? If these seem important questions, see “Dumbo.” Otherwise, you can miss it.
Dumbo’s human family includes Colin Farrell as sympathetic, widowed Holt Farrier, and his sweet children, Millie (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). They lost their mother, Natalie, in the 1918 influenza epidemic. Caring for orphaned Dumbo, Millie and Joe worry a lot about him. “Maybe he just wants to be left alone,” says Joe, “like Dad.” “Nobody,” says Millie, “wants to be alone.” Danny DeVito is manic Max Medici, owner of the small-time, money-strapped circus, who, when flying Dumbo is an overnight sensation, sells out to snarky millionaire V.A. Vandevere, played by Michael Keaton.
Others in the large cast include Eva Green as glamorous French aerial artist Colette Marchant. Smitten, Vandevere calls her “the Queen of Heaven.” Alan Arkin is big-time banker J. Griffin Remington, like Vandevere, an unsavory character. Miguel Munoz Sequra and Zenaida Alcalde are good-hearted Medici Circus performers, Ivan the Wonderful and Catherine the Greater.
“Dumbo” is the latest, but certainly not the greatest, of recent live-action remakes of Disney animated films (“Cinderella” and “The Jungle Book,” among others). Tim Burton directed “Dumbo,” with Ehren Kruger’s screenplay (based on the 1938 novel by Harold Pearl and Helen Aberson), but their film is too dark, too noisy, and too long. More importantly, it has almost no heart. Poor Dumbo’s story — grief for his missing mother and ecstatic joy for his effortless flying — is lost in the film’s second half, set in Vandevere’s vast Coney Island “Dreamland” amusement park (expansive enough to be a Disney enterprise) where Holt becomes an action hero (spoiler alert), freeing Dumbo while Dreamland burns down.
Rated PG for peril, action, thematic elements and mild language, “Dumbo” runs a long 112 minutes. (The 1941 original was 64 minutes.) This bloated remake is not for little kids. It’s also not much fun for oldies like me.
Disney’s remade “Dumbo”
Is a disappointing bore —
Dark, cluttered, noisy,
And my heart didn’t soar.