★★★★ - STUFF
- For someone who gets paid a few bags of peanuts every week to have an opinion about the movies I watch, I truly do have some unforgivable gaps in my viewing history.
I have never seen Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz or even The Rocky Horror Picture show from beginning to end. Though I've seen so many scenes from it, I'm pretty certain I have at least watched all parts of it at least once. And to that list of shame, dear reader, you can add the original 1941 Dumbo. And maybe that's a good thing.
I've been reading a little online this morning from various American and European commentators more or less outraged that Tim Burton's Dumbo just ain't the Dumbo they wanted to see and that calling the new film a remake is misleading and setting the audience up for disappointment. But me, I really didn't care.
This 2019 Dumbo is set in the years immediately after World War i. A struggling circus tours the southern states, its performers disheartened and underpaid, the audiences are meager and fading fast.
Into this unhappy family comes returning soldier and once-performer Holt Farrier. He has left an arm on the fields of France, but is keen to resume work as a horseman.
Waiting for Holt are his two adorable kids and one very pregnant pachyderm.
Dumbo unfolds as a fairly predictable feat of storytelling, but is visually and acoustically something that maybe only Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood) could have produced.
There's a dastardly rival circus owner who wants Dumbo for himself, a beautiful trapeze artist who might hold the key to Holt's broken heart, and many and various circus performers – some human – who all have something to contribute to the story.
Burton has always been good at juggling ensemble casts and still maintaining clarity of storytelling. But his absolute mastery is over the design and choreography of a film. Dumbo might be a film about a flying elephant – and it's a slightly long-winded, but mostly brilliantly enjoyable one too – but it's Burton's cameras that grow wings. Dumbo is a restless, busy and always beautiful film to look at. Even if the story starts to sag a little before the inevitable big finale, just relax and look at the screen. Every frame of this film could be taken home and hung on your wall – it's that pretty.
In the leads, Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Michael Keaton and Alan Arkin are all plenty of fun to watch, with child actors Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins – both on film debut – brilliantly carrying several crucial moments without any adult support.
Regular Burton collaborator Danny Elfman contributes the music, which is surprisingly unobtrusive by his standards, but also perfectly appropriate for a film that plays out mostly in big tops and fair grounds.
All I knew about Dumbo walking in to the cinema this morning was that I was about to see a film about a baby elephant who can fly. I walked out 112 minutes later having seen just that.
And that made me happy.
Dumbo (PG, 112 mins) Directed by Tim Burton ★★★★
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF