Home / Industry / Media /  Film Review: 'Dumbo' gets by on the charm of its titular character

In Tim Burton’s version of the Disney story, the baby elephant, born in a circus van, had me at the first flap of his oversized ears. Writer Ehren Kruger adapts the 1941 animated classic about a miracle elephant that can fly. The 112-minute live action film is set in 1921, with Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returning home from the war missing one arm. He is reunited with his two children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), who had to deal with their mother’s death on their own as they awaited their soldier father’s return to their home at the circus.

The Medici Brothers travelling circus is a shadow of its former self. Holt’s horses, which once made him the showcase act, have been sold and circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito, giving the film a much-needed boost of vitality) has taken a punt by investing in Jumbo, a large Asian pachyderm. But when Jumbo gives birth to an odd little calf with flapping ears so large that it trips over them, a flummoxed Medici is prompted to say, “A face only a mother could love".

Milly and Joe befriend Dumbo and train him to fly, with the promise that if he performs in the circus, they will help reunite Dumbo with Jumbo. But now the customary villain shows up, entrepreneur VA Vandevere (Michael Keaton), whose mantra is making the impossible possible. His latest venture is Dreamland – an expansive amusement part where he wants Dumbo to feature as a star attraction (Burton is clearly making a reference to Walt Disney and Disneyland here).

Aerial artist Colette Marchant (Eva Green) teams up with Dumbo to create a centrepiece act, but the children have not forgotten their promise to their friend. The parallel of mother-less children is too obvious, and the story does follow a road well-travelled. But since Burton is in charge, expect rumbles in the darkness and expect to be impressed by the cinematography (Ben Davis), costumes (Colleen Atwood), production design (Rick Heinrichs), music (Danny Elfman) and the animation that created the adorable Dumbo with those large watery eyes that sparkle in the wild. 

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