Disney’s Dumbo was never an animated film I was enthralled by as a child. Growing up, I wasn’t quite taken with the idea of a flying elephant and to be quite honest, the circus and that ‘Pink Elephants’ scene scared me. The live-action Dumbo film that recently released, however, is another story.
Unlike the animated film, the live-action heavily featured human characters that allowed for character interactions, relationships and a more ‘realistic’ story. The film follows the Medici Brothers Circus and the Farrier family as they struggle to keep the circus alive. Their discovery of Dumbo’s flying abilities, predictably, set them on the path to what was supposed to be a glorious comeback.
The film’s narrative was, as expected, predictable and fairly simplistic, which is fair considering the source material didn’t feature a ‘human’ story line. As with most Disney films, the plot consists of a challenge, a possible solution, a villain who throws off the solution, a courageous rise to the occasion and a happily ever after resolution. While this is the stock standard approach to traditional Disney films, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering the target audience: children.
Dumbo’s narrative was clearly tailored to suit children, who wouldn’t be expected to understand complicated story lines. For this reason, the lack of a solid story didn’t put me off. Instead, I took the film for what it was and enjoyed the journey that I was taken on.
While the narrative itself was decent, upon critical review, there were certainly a fair amount of plot holes that I personally thought could have been fixed. The character representations, in particular, were weak in my honest opinion. I say this, because there was so much more potential that could have been portrayed in the film. Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) was disappointing considering the caliber of the actor. The disconnect from his children didn’t quite improve and the sudden bonding he did finally have with them toward the end of the film, felt forced and disingenuous. The same goes for Colette Marchant (Eva Green), whose role in the film came across as rather unnecessary, and was included simply to provide a ‘motherly’ figure for the Farrier children. Just like Holt, Marchant’s bond with the children was not convincing.
V. A. Vandervere (Michael Keaton) was, interestingly, a personification of Walt Disney in a way, wanting to bring magic to the world and make people feel like kids again with his theme park, Dreamland. Almost everything about his character screamed ‘villain’ right from the beginning, and there wasn’t much more to him, which was rather disappointing considering Disney has a track record of creating convoluted villains.
Max Medici (Danny DeVito), on the other hand, was possibly my favourite character of the lot. Of the entire cast, he seemed to be the only one able to show a range of emotion, making us feel for him and his predicament. My only gripe was the number of times he kept saying “rule number one”, which kept bringing up memories of the Satyr, Phil, from Disney’s Hercules, a character that DeVito voiced.
My other gripe is Disney’s lack of imagination with giving its younger girls any interests other than ‘science’. Yes, girls in science is now a trending topic and having girls be passionate about exploring the wonders of the world shows the move toward equality, however, there are more to what interests young girls than just beauty, fashion, romance and now, science. What about a girl who’s interested in extreme sports, or being in business, or making video games? Perhaps the time period in which Dumbo is set didn’t allow for other options beyond the broad field of ‘science’. Just a thought I had.
Having not revisited the classic animated film in a while, I had forgotten a fair bit of the film, so I can’t recall if Dumbo was viciously teased and mistreated in the animated film. In this live-action adaptation, however, I was almost in tears over the way Dumbo was made to feel; teased, belittled and downright forced to perform dangerous stunts, despite the fact that he’s just a baby!
The film certainly made Dumbo’s emotions quite apparent and that tugged at my heart. I felt so much for the dear thing and wished I could have been able to jump into the film’s universe to rescue the baby elephant. Perhaps this is where Disney thrives. Almost all its films include a strong emotional pull that has audiences feeling strongly about one thing or another.
Visually, no doubt the film was stunning. The CGI effects were phenomenal, bringing out the best aspects of the circus, including realistic looking animals. It was amazing just how real Dumbo and his mother looked, which goes to show the level of detail included in creating the set, characters and outline of the film. Of course, this was accompanied by some very familiar soundtracks that made me feel like singing-along too; another Disney trait.
Overall, Dumbo felt incredibly disconnected, with a story that didn’t quite seem well put together. It was almost as if there was much more to the film that was cut out so as to reduce the film’s length and therefore leaving the final version seem rushed. Taking it as a children’s film has helped me not to be too critical over the film and I did enjoy watching Dumbo grow as a character. More importantly, the film mainly made me feel concern over the age old practice of animal cruelty and abuse. Perhaps the deeper message of the film was that animals too have strong bonds and feelings, and that it’s always important to treat all living beings with kindness and love.