Trunk in the Junk: Dumbo

The decline of Tim Burton continues with Dumbo, his wasteful remake of the classic animated movie that amounts to a big nothing of a movie, for kids and adults alike.

The original Dumbo clocked in at just over an hour, while this one lasts for nearly two hours that feel like 40. Yes, the running time has been padded but, no, it’s not padded with anything that registers as beneficial. A bunch of unnecessary subplots and added characters take away time from the title character, an admittedly cute CGI achievement.

There are no talking animals in this movie, so scratch Timothy the mouse, the singing crows and the lullaby from Mama elephant off your list of expectations. The mouse (who makes a brief appearance as a caged mouse wearing a hat) is replaced by the requisite precocious children, one of them played by Thandie Newton’s daughter. Sorry, Thandie Newton’s daughter, but you can’t act, and shouldn’t act, and need to consider another profession that requires you not to act.

Colin Farrell appears as Holt, the precocious children’s dad, back from WWI with one arm after his wife died of the flu while traveling with the circus. The circus is led by Max Medici (a blustery Danny DeVito), who has purchased a cheap, pregnant elephant. He wants Holt to be the keeper of his elephants, a comedown from his previous gig as a circus cowboy. Farrell, like most of the humans in this movie, seems lost.

V.A. Vandevere, the villain of the film played by Michael Keaton, purchases Dumbo and plans to make him a main attraction at his Dreamland, which has a strong resemblance to Disneyland. So, in a way, Vandevere is modeled after Walt Disney, and is portrayed as an evil megalomaniac. So, in essence, Burton gets away with indirectly portraying Walt Disney as a bit of a greedy monster. I’m not saying this is anything inaccurate, but it’s a little odd to see in an actual Disney movie.

As for Keaton, he’s at his sneering worst in his movie, as if he was just put in front of the camera and told to act persnickety. It’s a shame because seeing the man who was Batman in a movie by the guy who directed Batman certainly had promise to be fun. Alas, it is not. Keaton just seems as if he’s always on the brink of recreating his “You wanna get nuts…let’s get nuts!” scene from Batman, which was one of the worst parts of that movie.

In the original, Dumbo flew in only a couple of scenes for just a few seconds. Here, he has multiple flying scenes, which lessens the magic of the moments. Regrettably, the scene in the original where Dumbo gets wasted and sees pink elephants is replaced by a lame bubble show that is an homage to the Dumbo drunk scene, and a dull homage at that.

As much as I did like the original, I’ve always taken issue with the notion that anybody would give Dumbo a bunch of shit for having big ears. All elephants have big ears, do they not? The premise worked in a one-hour cartoon for kids, but falls flat in a big-budget, live-action movie with real people walking around. The morality lesson at the core just doesn’t ring right with actual humans acting it out. Feels corny.

Burton used to churn out one classic after another. His last great movie was 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and his career was severely tainted with his other Disney live-action reboot, Alice in Wonderland.

Dumbo is actually worse than that Alice mess, and proof that Burton needs to get far away from the mouse and closer to the weirdos who inspired the first half of his career. Jesus, make another Pee Wee movie before you deface any further Disney properties.

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