Then vs Now: Dumbo

Released 10/31/1941                              Rated: G

So I had no idea that I liked this film more than I remembered I did. The majority of Disney’s collection was on repeat throughout my childhood. I’ve fallen a bit out of love with some of them over the years, and if you had asked me beforehand I probably wouldn’t have even considered Dumbo to be in a top-ten list, but rewatching this movie filled me with a sense comfort. Which is weird because this is a movie where literally everyone makes fun of or abuses this baby elephant in some way. It’s horrible and heartbreaking to watch. Turns out Dumbo was also one of Walt’s favorites.

In a way this movie is Dumbo. It’s a tiny film that packs a heavy-duty punch of emotion right at your heart. One of the first scenes we get is of the storks delivering the babies to the zoo and Mrs. Jumbo, the only one awake and outside eagerly anticipating the arrival of her son, doesn’t get a package. Heart wrench #1. Then we see the kids picking on Dumbo his mom flips out which causes a panic and the circus workers have to shackle and detain her. Heart wrench #2. And the absolute kick in the teeth is the scene where Dumbo visits his mom who’s shackled and locked in a train car. She can barely get close enough to the barred window to see him, so she threads her trunk through the bars to touch his face and rock him in a little swing. Heart wrench #3. I’m not crying. You’re crying!

If I had to put a finger on what it is about Dumbo that turned me off I’d probably have to say that it was the pink elephants on parade sequence. It’s just a weird trip that’s out of left field and crescendos into a chaotic mess before settling into the next morning’s horizon (which is a cool transition). It reminds me of Winnie the Pooh’s heffalumps and woozels nightmare except that one had a catchier song accompanying it. I think this is everyone’s most anticipated scene with Tim Burton’s take, and I’m right there with them. If that scene isn’t weird as all get out, I’m going to be disappointed.

Released 03/29/2019                              Rated: PG

I wish I had better things to say about it, but I’m going to be honest, I don’t. So let’s start with the most glaring issue first. Dumbo had everyone beat in the acting department. The CGI elephant had a wider ranger of emotion than anyone else throughout the entire film. That’s disappointing considering all the names attached to this movie. Eva Green in my opinion did the best job but there sadly wasn’t much to her character. And I have never, in my life, ever declared that a child actor was bad, because to me, they’re kids; they’re just supposed to be convincing children. I had a hard time with Milly and Joe. They couldn’t even bother to *react* to what was happening in the story sometimes, and considering that this movie is about a baby elephant that can fly…I just couldn’t believe it. Colette hugs Joe while his dad goes after his sister, and the kid couldn’t look more bored; he didn’t even pretend to hug her back. He was just like “Well, this is happening.” (Really?) Michael Keaton’s character was hammy, and I couldn’t figure out if he was supposed to be or not. Collin Ferrell somehow missed the mark too. [sigh]…I don’t get it, y’all. I really don’t.

Now, would someone please explain to me why Dumbo had to inhale the feather any time he wanted to fly? I get that they had to come up with something since only the first portion of this movie follows the plot of the animated, but the inhalation seemed a bit much to me. I like the idea of Dumbo always being within reach of a feather, but it takes away the magic the specific feather required. Also, how does it work if he then goes to get water? I’m pretty sure the first time he flew at the circus and sprayed water on those boys he didn’t lose his hold on the feather, but when he saves the family from the burning tent, he does. OMG y’all! That shot of Dumbo looking back at the feather as it burns. Not gonna lie: saddest moment.

The pink elephants scene… [sigh] Y’all, this was the one scene I was specifically anticipating. I understand not wanting to have the baby elephant drinking and hallucinating. And I do appreciate the bubble elephants being similar to the animated version. But –and my husband and I had the exact same thought– this was some Now You See Me bull shit: unconvincing, bad CGI. I couldn’t get into it. Maybe–MAYBE if it was a single shot, but they kept inter-cutting between the bubbles and shots of Dumbo bobbing his head like he was enjoying the show. My husband figured (and I don’t know why I didn’t think of this) the pink elephants were all in Dumbo’s head as he was trying to make sense of what he was seeing, which makes sense because Dumbo and Timothy Mouse share a hallucination when they’re drunk in the original. But then it cuts to Alan Arkin who just goes: “Huh. Pink elephants.” So it’s indeed supposed to be happening as part of the act for everyone to see. It just doesn’t work.

There’s a lot more going on in this movie than there was in the original. I appreciate Burton fleshing out the story, but it almost feels like they took on too much and kind of lost sight of the heart of the matter a bit. Ultimately I didn’t like it, and I’m disappointed about it.

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