Fish and Cherries Productions

Creative content from a mad mind.


Reel Snippet – Dumbo (2019)

You’ve seen a horse fly…

Synopsis: The Medici Family Circus isn’t doing too well — apart from the financial issues, the star equestrian Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) has come back from World War I missing an arm. To draw in the crowds again, circus head Max Medici (Danny Devito) buys some elephants, one of whom gives birth to a child with abnormally large ears. The audience mocks the young elephant and they cruelly name him Dumbo. This causes the mother to go on a rampage to protect her young. After the mother gets sold away for PR purposes, Holt’s children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) discover that Dumbo’s ears allow him to fly which brings crowds back to the circus. This catches the attention of one V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), the owner of a prestigious circus, who buys up the Medici Circus to make Dumbo world famous. At first everything seems fine, but more and more it seems that Vandevere is taking advantage of the circus and exploiting them. So it falls to the Farrier family and Dumbo to find a way to save Mr. Medici and his performers from a cruel and greedy man.

Review: Dumbo (2019) was… weird, but not in a good way. I know Tim Burton is known for courting the odd and strange in his movies, but this was more along the lines of being unsettling. Most of the shots felt off, like it was shot for 3D or some other gimmick, which made them just look unnatural. On top of that, all of the animals were CGI which threw me further out of an immersive experience. No way around it: this was a visually ugly movie.

There was something unpleasant about how things play out for the poor elephant — granted, a lot of the scenes were in the original, but for some reason having it as a live-action sequence somehow made the suffering more real and hard to bear. And therein lies the problem: if the scenes are copy-pasted but completely devoid of charm, the issue is with the direction. Nowhere is that more prevalent than with the child actors. No joke, the daughter is one of the most wooden actors I’ve seen in a long time. Yes, I know, I should give child actors some slack, but her scenes were really hard to get through due to her utter lack of emotion. No joke, she made Jake Lloyd from Episode I look like Abigail Breslin from… well, anything she’s in.

Once again, this Disney remake is trying to correct some perceived transgression from the original. One way they do this is by pointing out how miserable and abusive the circus is to animals, which is admittedly a good move. But oh, then the second push toward progressivism is where things fall apart and once again, it involves the daughter. She’s pushing for being a modern woman in the early 20th Century with a particular interest in science and chemistry… which plays no role whatsoever in the story. The closest we get is that she forms a hypothesis about Dumbo’s flight, but apart from that, her interest contributes jack all to the film as a whole.

It’s kinda funny that the first chunk is the most accurate to the original before throwing it out the window. From there, references and homages do indeed crop up, but most of them are awkward and bizarre. The standout has to be their version of the “pink elephants on parade” scene, where Dumbo wasn’t even drunk and the elephants were made from real bubbles in the real world that move and dance around like it’s Harry Freaking Potter. I know Tim Burton specializes in stuff that’s out there, but there are times when he needs to be grounded in reality… in a movie where an elephant flies with his ears… I kinda lost the point I was trying to make.

There’s one more point to touch on: this one trash bag of a circus hand who seems to exist only to be a jerk. He’s cruel to the point of cartoonish, abusing Jumbo and Dumbo with zero prompting and is basically the catalyst for Jumbo’s freakout… before promptly dying and leaving room for Michael Keaton to be the main antagonist. All in all, I’m glad I waited until Disney+ because I would not have enjoyed watching it in theaters. Granted, I didn’t enjoy watching it at all; it was just a really unpleasant experience. I know it’s easy to shun the remakes for their original animated counterparts, but there’s way more charm in the original and you won’t feel bad about a real-looking elephant undergoing abuse.

Fun Tidbit: There’s a fun reference to another Disney property. Early in the film, Mr. Medici offers some advice to some performers, starting out by saying “Rule Number One.” Danny Devito played Philoctetes in Hercules where he was known to have many rule-numbered wisdom nuggets.

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