Disney’s Dumbo soars in Burton’s tearjerker

A self-confessed Disney fan, I have pretty high expectations for anything that the mighty company brings to the fore. Luckily for me, and for all you Disney fans out there, director Tim Burton’s interpretation and expansion on the original Dumbo film has definitely met those expectations.

Dumbo follows a young elephant born into the circus whose ears are so big that they enable him to fly. The two children who discover his ability, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe Farrier (Finley Hobbins), adopt the baby elephant into their family and promise to reunite him with his mother whom the circus owner, Max Medici (Danny DeVito), had since returned to the seller. Along with their father, Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) and the rest of their Medici circus family, the troupe strike a deal with slippery entrepreneur V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) in which Dumbo himself is the bargaining chip, and a simultaneously heart-warming and heart-wrenching adventure ensues.

The original Dumbo has a run time of just over 60 minutes and so screenplay writer Ehren Kruger had a lot of time to make up for. Working alongside Tim Burton, the pair constructed a film that, as with the original, centred around Dumbo whilst also bringing in new elements and characters that could create a more robust, relatable and lengthened tale.

Set during the time of the first world war, the costuming for the film reflected the era perfectly. The evolution of the set from struggling circus to new-age adventure park was also represented with ease and efficiency, smoothly transitioning from the latter to the former, and on from there. Dumbo himself was the cutest little thing and the CGI that created him was executed flawlessly. The scenes with his mother were easiest to relate to, and sob to.

The casting for Dumbo ensures that each character clearly encapsulated his or her role. The villains looked villainous, the heroes looked heroic, the strong man looked strong and the children’s’ innocence was captured in their innocence. The performances given by the cast were digestible and easy to follow, clearly depicting a functioning familial relationship, both within the circus troupe itself and also with those who came to the forefront a little later on. Nico Parker, playing Milly Farrier, carried the film in her small, sad and serious hands, what with her utmost faith in Dumbo coupled with the unrelenting faith that she had in herself. May many a young girl be inspired by her strength!

Entrenched within the root of the film is the underlying theme of sadness, one that rears its head regularly throughout. It is there in every reference that the children make to their mother, who died of influenza. It is there in Holt’s missing arm, the one that he lost to the war. It is there in Dumbo’s agonising search for his mother, in the circus troupe who are ostracised for their oddities, in the animal cruelty that is touched upon but only lightly, only cautiously and from a distance. The sorrow was there but it was hidden from the vantage point the film’s target audience––the children.

Though Dumbo was a tearjerker, it was also inspiring and educational, as you’ll find most Disney films to be once you start to dig beneath their surface. Dumbo is truly a film that gives you all of the feels and it’s certainly one we’d love to run away with.

Reviewed by Maya Dodd.

4 stars
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