Dumbo (2019) – reviewed by George

This is the first one of Disney’s transformations of a cartoon into live action/CGI that I have seen, and I was asked before I saw it, “Why would you watch this and review it, and more or less say that it’s okay to cash in on perfection and trash it?”
Well, the earlier films, like “Beauty and the Beast” and “Cinderella” got good reviews on release, and I remember a few complaints, but I don’t remember that any of them dealt with quality, or knocked the films in comparison with the originals. So I watched this – and  then understood the basis for my friend’s reaction.
The original “Dumbo” (which I reviewed on 9-3-2016) has nasty animals (the female elephants) and nasty people, while here all the nastiness comes from people. But the original was basically bright and fun and justice was achieved in colorful and funny and exciting ways. So the big problem is that this film is so very dark and depressing for almost half of its length. The war has just ended and Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), the cowboy whose riding and roping skills were a big part of the circus program, has just returned minus his left arm, and his wife has died while he was at war, and his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) have been cared for by Ivan and Catherine (I never saw them again, so have no idea what their function in the circus was, or even if they were performers), and the circus has fallen on really, really bad times. The owner/manager Max Medici (Danny DeVito) has even sold Holt’s horses to pay the bills, and now that Holt is back, Max apologizes and offers Holt the job of elephant trainer. The circus has left winter quarters in Sarasota, Florida and is in Joplin, Missouri when Holt catches up. And one of “his” elephants who had been thought sick, has just had a baby.
From this deflating beginning we move on. Dumbo’s ears have been discovered and Max sees an opportunity for publicity. And then a truly marvelous, thrilling, and emotional moment when Dumbo flies for the first time, in great circles over the audience in the tent. Unfortunately the publicity brings V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) to see the elephant and buy the circus. He already owns Dreamland, a huge entertainment venue which is a rival for Coney Island, and he wants to add the Medici Family Circus to his roster. Max is weak, the money is great, and everyone moves to New York. Now Holt meets Colette Marchant (Eva Green), the aerialist who is to fly with Dumbo. Colette is compassionate and likes all three Farriers, and Dumbo. And the family also meets Pramesh Singh (Roshan Seth) who works with Vandevere’s elephants, and Rongo the Strongman (DeObia Oparei), and these two will become a big help later (as will Colette).
The story continues dark (but not as dark), and there is only one additional moment that brings a thrill: Dumbo flying high over a long bridge in NYC.
So go ahead and watch this if you want, but see it first, before you involve your children, and use your own judgment on whether they can handle it. I don’t want mine to see it.
Screenplay by Ehren Kruger, Directed by Tim Burton.

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