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2019 is the year Disney goes all in on the remakes of its animated classics. Later this summer we'll see both Aladdin and The Lion King hit the screen. But first, it's all about the flying elephant. Dumbo was Disney's fourth animated feature film, which makes it now the earliest one to get the live-action treatment. How does the new film stack up against the original, as well as the other Disney remakes? A few critics were lucky enough to see Dumbo early and most of them are pretty complimentary.
It's interesting, though not too surprising, to hear that there's an animal rights element to the new Dumbo. Several of those who have seen the movie remarked upon it. The fact is that the 1941 original is a movie that hasn't necessarily aged all that well. Many elements that were not seen at the time as being any issue, we now realize were inappropriate. Many people remember, or are at least aware, of the crow characters that give Dumbo his "magic feather." The fact is that's not even the only racially problematic sequence in the film. But beyond race, there's even more about Dumbo that's potentially a problem now.
The fact is that circuses themselves are largely viewed now as something that should be left in our past. Few, if any, of the circuses that remain in business today even use animal acts. Regardless of how well a circus may attempt to treat its animals, the issue of them being repeatedly caged can't be overlooked. The sequence that leads Dumbo's mother to be taken away, as one example, is the sort of thing that would likely result in the entire circus being shutdown, and a host of lawsuits being filed. Dumbo is also repeatedly put at great physical risk for the entertainment of people. We know now such things are entirely wrong. Not at least pointing out this fact would have been a missed opportunity.
One of the more unique aspects of this particular story is that the title character of the film is an elephant created entirely with CGI that never actually speaks. It's safe to say that if the elephant doesn't work, the movie doesn't work. However, one item that pretty much everybody seems to be in agreement on is that the elephant is adorable and emotional. As writer Nick Kazden put it...
The idea of Dumbo being a sequel likely comes from the fact that Dumbo only actually shows the world he can fly in the last minutes of the original film. As it seems clear that's not the case here, most of this version of Dumbo would have taken place after the original movie was over. This gives Tim Burton a lot more to work with, which may be where his creativity is allowed to shine.
The sentiment that Burton is at his best is also echoed by Attractions Magazine, though without the caveat of "live-action..."
Of course, few films receive entirely perfect responses from all corners, and while few seem to have truly hated Dumbo, many still found it lacking. While the remake may offer a bit more substance than the animated original, Nerds of Color still found the new version fairly thin...
Similarly, IGN felt that the movie was simply missing the heart of the original, and that the stories of the human characters, the part of the live-action film that is entirely original, never felt fully realized...
Dumbo is an interesting movie to want to remake in the first place. While it's got some beautiful visuals and musical moments, the story itself leaves a bit to be desired. The movie isn't very long, and it still has moments, like the well-known "Pink Elephants on Parade" that are mostly just filler designed to show off Disney's animation talent.
The new version was always going to need something to give it a bit more substance. The decision was to create a collection of new human characters who come into conflict over Dumbo's fate, but it seems not everybody agrees they have all that much substance themselves.
There are clearly a lot of fans of the animated classic that will likely want to check this one out. Some are saying it is much better than some of Disney's more recent remake efforts. The rest of us will find out when Dumbo hits theaters March 29.