December 3, 2021

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[Review] Does Dumbo succeed in his (re) takeoff?

78 years after the Disney cartoon, the most extraordinary elephant in the circus returns to take off again. If the film departs somewhat from the cartoon, it is not to displease us. The Burtonnesque universe breathes new life into the story of the adorable little elephant rejected by his circus because of his big ears.

Rest assured, the new Dumbo signed Tim Burton is not a Gothic version of the cartoon. The director was able to take advantage of the magic of his universe to bring it to life with that of Disney. But as always, Tim Burton is brilliantly the cantor of the marginalized, the lonely and the so-called monsters. Dumbo here becomes the incarnation of a current social subject, the monster then takes on the appearance of an innocent little elephant rejected for its difference. But does the rereading of Tim Burton bring added value to the cartoon or is it simply a copy and paste of the 1941 cartoon?

From cartoon to live-action
Nothing new on the bottom, you all remember the story of the little elephant born with big ears. A fault which earned him to be the fairground of the entire circus. His mother, wanting to protect him, then provokes a catastrophe which is worth to him to be driven out of the circus and separated from his son. So far no difference, we agree. The disparities slip into the form. We are here in a live action, so the animals do not have a voice and the role of humans takes a more important part. It is the two children of former Captain Holt Farrier (Colin Farell), Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), who will discover that Mrs. Jumbo’s baby is able to fly.

The world of childhood then clash with the world of adults when grown-ups refuse to believe younger people. Yet once circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) realizes the elephant’s extraordinary nature, he sees it as a way to make a lot of money. He will then make bad choices and join forces with the dark manipulator Vandevere (Michael Keaton) to make the baby elephant the flagship attraction of the millionaire’s huge park. His thirst for money and his naivety will cost him dearly. The reality of the adult world again bumps into the innocence of childhood since if Milly and Joe accept the notoriety of Dumbo, it is only with the aim of reuniting a mother and her baby. The view of adults is obviously very different since it is driven by the lure of profit. Welcome to Dreamland …

A clever mix of two universes
The universe of Tim Burton is dark and melancholy and finally clashes with the cartoons full of good intentions of Disney. But maybe not as much as you might think in the end … Introverted and passionate, the hero of Tim Burton has a pure heart and a child’s soul. Dumbo’s innocence is evident. If the eyes are a reflection of the soul, Dumbo’s are an ocean of sadness in which it is easy to drown. The purity of the hero is generally opposed to the avarice of the antagonists who seek to occupy the center of the scene and who become the target of Tim Burton. The director loathes anyone who seeks to impose their fanaticism and morale by rejecting different beings who do not blend in with the norm. That being said, the two universes no longer seem so diametrically opposed.

When you think of Disney, you necessarily think of the songs that punctuate their cartoons. They are obviously present in this live-action but skilfully dosed, they succeed in establishing a balance between lovers of the song and the most recalcitrant. The music blends particularly well with the world of the circus, they will always intervene at the right time. If Tim Burton has somewhat rewritten history, he has been able to integrate with accuracy the key moments of the cartoon such as the famous dance of the elephants. But again, he adds his pen to it and the storytelling changes a bit. This is how we find the little mouse, the elephant’s best friend in the cartoon, playing a completely different role here. Tim Burton knew how to marry the new and the old with subtlety, the winks are discreet but a warned eye will know how to spot them easily.

A parallel between yesterday and today
Tim Burton keeps playing with the parallels between past and present. It takes up two themes as old as the world but which are still relevant today. If the circus usually refers to childhood and joy, it becomes here a pretext to highlight the fear of difference and animal suffering. With his bad luck, Dumbo combines the two. The ill-intentioned men will therefore have the sole purpose of exploiting it in order to take advantage of its difference and thus restore a balance.

If until then, the themes are not original, Tim Burton takes an interesting look at modernity and accurately plays with our hopes and our doubts. What place should be given to all these new innovations? Was it better before? If the theme was not addressed in the cartoon, animal suffering here becomes the central subject of the film. Is it still possible to use animals to entertain a human audience? Impossible to remain insensitive to these themes. It is the same with the questions on the place of the woman in the company subtly treated through the eyes of Milly. The little girl who approaches problems methodically and with a certain scientific rigor finds herself confronted with the demands of society and the place that we want to give

If the modern world intervenes in an anachronistic way, Tim Burton leads us to ask ourselves questions about social problems. He does not provide a clear answer, everything seems to lie in a balance. It is about not forgetting the past in order to make better choices in the future. Small flat, we can already feel the moral dripping marshmallow signed Disney.

Endearing but predictable characters
If there’s one thing the film can be faulted with, it’s the characters’ lack of depth. Some would have deserved to be more exploited if we take into account the emotional baggage that weighs on their shoulders. Captain Holt Farrier is a man broken by war, literally and figuratively. He lost the wife of his life, the mother of his children while deployed but nothing is investigated. A scene shows us that he is in mourning but we move on too quickly for this to be credible. The children’s grief also remains superficial even if it is a little deeper because it is put in parallel with that of Dumbo who, too, mourns his mother.