Film Review: Dumbo (2019)

Dir: Tim Burton
Starring: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, etc.
Runtime: 1hr52min
Rating: PG
Spoiler level: Light

When I first heard that Disney planned to put out a live-action version of the 1941 animated film Dumbo, I – and many others – had reservations. The original Dumbo is a classic, revered for the emotional impact it had on audiences, even though it tells a simple story. However, the addition of Tim Burton as director boosted my hopes, and when I saw the first trailer, featuring Aurora’s haunting rendition of “Baby Mine,” I knew I was going to see it.

In the 2019 remake of Disney’s classic, visionary director Tim Burton re-imagines the beloved big-eared flying pachyderm in his distinct, signature style while retaining the charm of the original and expanding upon powerful themes, though an occasionally wooden screenplay does diminish the film’s “mystique.”

Dumbo_(2019_film)Per usual for Burton’s work, a major strength of the film is the visuals. Brilliant color schemes and gorgeous, intricate sets help create an atmosphere of magic and awe for the circus scenes, and Dumbo himself – though he shares the spotlight with a variety of new characters created for the film – is adorable, with his massive ears and happy squeaks. Though he never speaks, his emotions are clear in his eyes and his expressions and he carries the heart of the film as he soars to the furthest reaches of a star-speckled tent. Frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman also offers up an incredible score that helps generate a sense of wonder and play homage to themes from the original.

If you’ve never seen the original Dumbo, you were spared the trauma of particularly heartbreaking scenes – which are recreated in this film, and are similarly wrenching. The inclusion of the classic “Baby Mine,” sung by Miss Atlantis (Sharon Rooney,) certainly tugs on the ol’ heartstrings, and Dumbo’s sorrow radiates off the screen in a way that will probably scar a whole new generation of children.

The cast is spectacular – Farrell as veteran Holt Farrier, a widowed, one-armed father of two bright children and Green’s acrobatic Colette, “Goddess of the Heavens”, are standouts, as are the supporting circus acts and DeVito’s Max Medici, owner of the circus. Keaton is excellent as the smarmy, deviously debonair villain, V.A. Vandemere, and the kids, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) shine as they support Dumbo, teaching him that his ears can be a blessing rather than a hindrance.

The narrative strives to expand upon the simplicity of the original by introducing new ideas into a basic and straightforward story – and, at times, it shines. Messages about being true to yourself, not letting fear stop you from flying after your dreams, accepting your flaws, etc, are conveyed in a meaningful manner that will hopefully resonate with young audiences. Milly is a logically-minded young heroine who provides a scientific approach to Dumbo’s abilities, and the supporting circus characters all band together to create a compelling idea of a family that is “made,” two ideas that were not present in the original. But, at the core, it’s still a film about an elephant that can fly, which doesn’t get lost in the flurry of new plot-lines. In fact, in the original, Dumbo doesn’t fly until near the end of the film – but viewers don’t have to wait that long this time around.

Also – for those wondering – Burton’s version (obviously) omits the controversial crow characters, “Song of the Roustabouts,” and takes a firmer stance on the treatment of circus animals – all elements of the original film that are, in retrospect, uncomfortable to watch. So, if nothing else, 2019’s Dumbo does offer some much-needed, modern updates.

Obviously, the original Dumbo, with a paltry run-time of 64 minutes, told a story without frills and superfluity. But the 2019 version manages to maintain the core message while introducing new characters and ideas, and Burton achieves a balance that, for the most part, is solid. It doesn’t try to outshine the original, and distances itself enough to avoid unflattering comparisons about which version did what better. However, the dialogue is occasionally clunky, with unnecessary explanations that bog down the film. Many obvious lines could have easily been removed, as they were inferred by a previous thought, or expressed clearly in the character’s visible emotions. With a cleaner, sharper script, the film would have run much smoother – but regardless, it’s still a charming and whimsical ride, and a pleasure to watch.

Of all the Disney films Tim Burton could have re-imagined, the tale of Dumbo, the flying elephant, was a perfect fit for his skills and his vision. It might not have the same simple magic of the 1941 classic, but instead creates it’s own spectacle, with a patchwork crew of misfit characters that all band together around an adorable, beloved, big-eared hero.

 

 Overall rating: 8/10

Top Superhero Film Themes

With so many superhero and comic book films coming out over the last few years, and more still looming on the horizon, I decided to scroll back through my music library and compile a list of what I consider to be the best superhero “themes” from these films. There may be a few films I haven’t seen, so certain themes might have evaded my notice, but I have witnessed the bulk of them and here are my results!

I’ve linked a Youtube video (not mine) after each selection that contains the theme, as well as the Amazon link for purchase/listening. This isn’t sponsored or anything and I don’t own the rights to these songs; just want to have a bit of fun and spread some good hero themes around!

5.) Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Danny Elfman
Obviously I haven’t seen Tom Holland’s solo spin on our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man yet (besides his appearance in Civil War, which was excellent) but I’ll always have a place in my heart for the original Spider-Man films and Toby Maguire’s portrayal of the character. Maybe it’s because they were the first superhero films I got into, but regardless, I love both the original Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 – I actually still consider the second one to be one of the greatest superhero films to date. Not big on the third one, to be honest, but one thing is consistent throughout the three films – the music, and the amazing Spider-Man theme provided by Danny Elfman. In a way, the theme covers an “arc” – it hits different tones, from sweeping and emotional to action-packed and intense, hitting all the notes that combine to make a heroic sound. I honestly can’t even remember the theme from the second series of films; that’s not to say the music is bad, just that Elfman’s theme packed a bigger punch and has come to define the character (for me, at least.)

Here is the LINK! (Youtube)
Or purchase on Amazon: LINK!

4.) The Avengers (2012) – Alan Silvestri
Though I’ve loved nearly all of the Marvel solo hero films to date, I actually have trouble remembering the theme music for all of the individual characters; they’re all good in the moment, but none of them really “stuck” with me after the films ended. However, when the characters all teamed up for 2012’s The Avengers, they earned a new “team” theme, and it’s pretty great. It’s definitely the kind of song that will encourage you to finish the last strenuous laps of a running session or push you to the end of a difficult workout, and when it plays in the film, it’s easy to get pumped up about seeing a team of heroes take on a dastardly villain. It’s got the right blend of hype-building and morale-boosting, which is perfect for an ensemble film like The Avengers; it helps them sound like a team, instead of just looking like one.

Here is the LINK! (Youtube)
Or purchase on Amazon: LINK!

3.) Doctor Strange (2016) – Michael Giacchino
Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as Doctor Strange is the most recent introduction into the MCU, and his theme music is very fitting for him as a character. Doctor Strange is enigmatic, sarcastic, and his ingenuity is as much as strength as his actual powers are; and since he is a “different” sort of hero than most of the other MCU characters, his theme is also a little strange – in the best way.  It’s definitely my favorite theme from the Marvel films, which isn’t much of a surprise, since Giacchino consistently delivers great themes and scores (Rogue One comes to mind as a recent non-superhero standout). I went into this film knowing very little about Doctor Strange, and emerged from the theater humming the theme song under my breath. It’s whimsical and heroic and evokes strength all at once; the perfect sound for a hero who defies the norm.

Here is the LINK(Youtube)
Or purchase on Amazon: LINK!

2.) Wonder Woman (2017) – Rupert Gregson-Williams / Junkie XL
One of the major highlights of 2016’s Batman V Superman was the introduction of Gal Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman, and her solo film was released to glowing reception a little over a year later. And her theme music is absolutely BADASS – just like the character herself. The theme was initially created by Junkie XL for BvS but was also included and expanded on in the solo film, and Gregson-Williams does it justice. When this theme starts playing, it’s obviously a pulse-pounding, energetic prelude to some serious action, and it’s the perfect music to serve as the buildup and backdrop to battle. When Wonder Woman made her first appearance in BvS, this theme played to announce her arrival, and I remember sitting in the theater, listening to the music, and thinking “Wow – this is how a hero makes an entrance.” Now, every time it starts playing when Diana is fighting onscreen, I get chills; it’s everything a heroic theme should be and I hope we get to hear it in all Wonder Woman appearances to come.

Here is the LINK! (Youtube)
Or purchase from Amazon: LINK! (WW) and LINK! (BvS)

1.) The Dark Knight (2008) Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard
Though the theme from the original Batman film back in ’89 is pretty excellent as well, I think Zimmer and Howard’s theme for the caped crusader is the most definitive and powerful version thus far. Whenever this theme kicks up, it gets the energy flowing; it’s come to signify Batman as a character and really helped to mold The Dark Knight Trilogy as a whole. Like Elfman’s Spider-Man theme, this one seems to cover an arc – it hits all the notes of Batman’s character; his suffering, his heroism, his experiences, his humanity. None of these films would be what they are without their score, but I’d argue that Zimmer and Howard’s contribution to this trilogy has the biggest overall impact. It’s a theme I won’t forget, even when new incarnations of Batman take the screen; this is a theme that will endure, and whenever I think of Batman, this is the theme I associate him with. I’m still baffled the soundtrack wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar, though that’s probably because I’m biased. The Dark Knight Trilogy really revolutionized the “comic book film” genre with its gritty, dark tone and groundbreaking performances, and the music provides the a fitting, powerful soundtrack to Bale’s incarnation of the much-beloved character.

Here is the LINK! (Youtube)
Or purchase from Amazon: LINK!