Mario’s Movies: ‘Dumbo’ (2019)

By Mario Ricciardi

They say Tim Burton hasn’t made a good movie since 2003’s “Big Fish.” I’m here to finally say that’s true. I watched his live action remake of “Dumbo” the other night and let me tell you — there’s very little good about it. The one good thing it planted in me was the desire to rewatch “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Now, there’s a good movie and it came out in 2005, two years after “Big Fish.”

Including Burton’s quirky style, the other thing I like most about “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is the comprehensive guide it provides to the world where the story takes place. It fills in the gaps that the original left open. I think that’s ultimately what most remakes should provide: a sense of completion that honors the original source material.

What do I mean by that? Well, the “Dumbo” remake is the perfect antithesis to that idea. “Dumbo” is the story of a baby circus elephant who learns to use his publicly declared deformity as the wonderful gift that it is. Where the original cartoon provides a colorful circus backdrop to this tale, Tim Burton’s remake accomplishes little more than having a team of animators recreate those colors in a computer.

Burton builds a broader world around the tale of the little (and insanely cute) elephant that could but neglects to actually enhance the original story he was working with. In fact, his additions don’t do much more than weigh the story down. Ironic for a movie about an elephant who learns to fly; magic animal burn anyone?

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” used its time to flush out Wonka’s motive, and provide a clearer (and more relatable) backstory for Charlie Bucket and his family. Not to mention indulging our curiosities about what happened to the kids who didn’t listen after exiting the factory. “Dumbo” does everything from adding characters and adding locations to adding new progressive lessons, but none of it does the story any justice because the film neglects what the original story already accomplished.

It’s as if Tim Burton had a baby elephant fill up a tub with water from its trunk, went to give a baby a bath in the tub, then threw the baby out with most of the bathwater. If one tropey pun isn’t enough, it’s like we lived in a world without wheels where flying baby elephants were our main source of transportation and everyone got along fine transporting on the elephants, but Tim Burton went ahead and tried reinventing the flying baby elephant.

Okay, enough of that. I’d actually feel pretty bad if Tim Burton ever read that paragraph one day. Ultimately, “Dumbo” does not work because it attempts to tell a whole new story around only a small kernel of what the original “Dumbo” was all about, minus all that racist junk they had in the 1941 version.

The film misses the heart of the new characters, the heart of the old characters and ultimately the heart of the lesson. There are some great thrills, and Michael Keaton and Alan Arkin shoot bolts of lighting into an otherwise humdrum circus.

With all its amazing visuals, its hard to believe it rings true, but “Dumbo” fails to soar, falling nearly on its own face.

?? (2/5 Penguins)