For some unknown reason, the mighty mouse (The Walt Disney Studios) is leaning heavily on live-action updates of animated classics for the next couple of years. Live-action versions of both “Aladdin,” with the powerhouse casting of Will Smith as the blue genie, and “The Lion King” are set for release in the summer.
Today we’re here to talk about “Dumbo,” the Tim Burton-directed tale of a flying elephant that gets ostracized by his circus troupe.
Burton is back in top form with his penchant for whimsical set pieces and scenes in which his mind runs all over the place. It really shows when Dumbo looks at floating bubbles in the shape of various elephants floating in the sky above him.
Michael Keaton plays V.A. Vandevere who is essentially a grifter, a con artist of sorts, who is only involved with the circus for short-term gain. Vandevere doesn’t care about the lives of the animals. He just wants to make a buck for his own selfish gain. Burton worked with Keaton in 1988’s “Beetlejuice,” 1989’s “Batman” and 1992’s “Batman Returns.”
Keaton is one of the few actors to star in back-to-back Oscar winners, for his lead role in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Vistue of Ignorance)” in 2014 and in writer/director Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” a true-life story in which Boston priests committed heinous acts against youths of the Catholic Church, the following year.
In “Dumbo,” Eva Green is Colette, a circus trapeze artist who spends time with Vandevere.
Colin Farrell is great as Holt Farrier, a soldier who lost an arm fighting overseas in the Great War. His wife died while he was gone and the entire circus troupe serves as a surrogate family for his kids. Alan Arkin appears later in the story as J. Griffin Remington, an investor who wants to see the elephant fly just like the rest of the public. He befriends Danny DeVito’s Max Medici, the circus owner, and offers to buy him a hot dog.
“Dumbo” works because it follows ideas in the original animated tale, yet adds enough diversity to appeal to modern audiences, although the story is set in 1940s America.
I wanted to dislike this movie, but I had such a good time with it that I was still smiling when the end credits began to roll. Although not a masterpiece, “Dumbo” still works as a stand-alone flick in the great Disney tradition.