Director Tim Burton presents a spectacular pallet filled with wonder and special effects along with the basic story of Dumbo, but his work does not have the heart and emotion of the original animated feature which I saw as a kid.
The base story deals with Holt Farrier’s (Colin Farrell) return to the circus following World War I. He is disabled, having lost his left arm in battle. His horse act which he hopes to return to, has been sold by circus owner Max (Danny DeVito) and he now must be a single parent to his two kids, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). The kids have been cared for by the troop of characters in the circus during his time in France. Most important to this story a new elephant called Mrs Jumbo has recently been purchased and she gives birth to a little Jumbo who we know will become Dumbo because of his very large ears.
As in the animated version Dumbo becomes the laughing stock in this case by the humans in and out of the circus. In the animated feature it was the other elephants that insulted Mrs. Jumbo for the unusual look of her offspring. But the two kids Nico and Milly care for Dumbo and learn that those ears allow Dumbo to fly. An elephant that can fly is a gold mine for Max, the owner who is quickly approached by V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) who has a permanent circus in New York.
Moving from a road show to the New York location the kids and Holt find they are treated to a fine location to live and the center ring at the spectacular circus in the big city. The effects and look of the NYC circus are a wonder, the work on that part of the film is wonderful. It look likes a place a century ago, that has every special look, ride and event. It is also where Holt meets Colette ( Eva Green) a high wire performer who becomes part of the Dumbo act. She rides on Dumbo’s back as the animal circles in the air at the ceiling of the big top. Even with some dramatic pause the act goes very well.
To force the act to work well Mrs Jumbo is sold off and we see the touching of trunks by mom and Dumbo which is nearly as effective as the old animated feature.
When Colette is placed in danger by Vandevere, he removes the net under the act, there is a turn in the working relationship between the stars and the owners. The kids and Holt along with Colette plan an escape for the star Dumbo and that leads Vandevere to act irrationally and destroy his circus. Should we expect that all will turn out well for the family and the elephants, this is Disney so we are treated to an ending similar to the end of Mighty Joe Young.
There is a great deal to respect and enjoy in this version. It may be a bit harsh in places for some kids, but the art direction and effects are beautiful to look at. This story is always a winner. How can we loose when we have a child searching to reunite with its mother.