Thinking of seeing ‘Dumbo’ because you loved the original? Think again

“Dumbo”
PG: Peril/action, some thematic elements and brief mild language.
Playing at: Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17, Movies 16 and Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
Credits: Executive produced and directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by Ehren Kruger; inspired by the 1941 animated film, based on the novel of the same name by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl. Original music by Danny Elfman. Cinematography by Ben Davis. Edited by Chris Lebenzon. Production design by Rick Heinrichs. Set direction by John Bush and Cosmo Sarson. Costume design by Colleen Atwood.
Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins.

Bill’s rating: One-and-one-half stars

One perceives the spirit of the late Walt Disney at least grimacing, if not spinning, after experiencing a cinematic remake of his iconic 1941 animated family film “Dumbo.”

Originally billed as a live action remake, this new “Dumbo” of course is a combination of live action and computer-generated imagery.

Give the film half a star for delivering the cutest, Paul Newman-ish blue-eyed baby pachyderm with oversized ears – although I felt like taking it away when director Tim Burton tipped his hat to the “Pink Elephants” number with soap bubbles.

The original film used primarily circus animals and a few populating nature outside the big top, to remind viewers of social niceties and cruelties, not to mention heartbreak and racism, expressed by humans. But unless the new producers wanted to simply deliver a paint-by-numbers clone of the original, they would need to introduce new human characters.

Who, however, would have predicted that director Tim Burton and screenwriter Ehren Kruger would reduce Dumbo to little more than a supporting character?

There is no “magic feather” introduced by supportive friend Timothy Q. Mouse. Instead, a feather tickles Dumbo’s trunk to the point of making him sneeze; the sneeze provides lift and, bam, the newborn elephant somehow instantly knows how to flap his ears and stay airborne.

Instant attraction … then set aside.

Far more attention is paid to characters created by Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito and Michael Keaton.

At the turn of the century, Farrell was regarded as the next big thing, expected to become a huge star.  That was an unfair introduction, true. Regardless, Farrell is all wrong for this particular movie and, in fact, delivers a flat performance, depicting little to no interest.

Farrell plays Holt Farrier, a former equestrian star of the Medici Brothers Circus. Having lost an arm during World War I, he returns to more bad news at home.

First, the circus fell on hard times, then his wife died – all while he was fighting in the trenches – and by the time he returns, he learns his two young children refuse to learn the circus trade and circus owner Danny DeVito became so desperate he sold Farrier’s horses.

In fact, the only job left for the former horseman is taking care of the elephants, particularly a pregnant female purchased by DeVito in hopes the calf will become the attraction needed to attract crowds in each town. Big ears only find Dumbo ridiculed by callous customers and, when protecting Dumbo, his mother is unfairly chained and labeled mad.

DeVito has to sell Dumbo’s mother back to her original owner and the sad “Baby Mine” tune from the original movie emerges here only as a campfire song.

Farrier’s ignored children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), are the ones who encourage Dumbo to fly. (Boy, I miss that mouse.) As for how they teach Dumbo to fly, suffice it to say that viewers are not supposed to ask too many questions.

Townspeople will turn out to see an elephant fly and so does Michael Keaton as V.A. Vandevere, a slick con man who owns Dreamland, an amusement on the Coney Island boardwalk that might seem more believable as an attraction for misbehaving boys in “Pinocchio.” Keaton, in effect, buys out DeVito, offering him a name-only partnership and hiring his entire troupe, at least temporarily.

For that matter, Keaton views French aerialist and trapeze artist Colette, played by Eva Green, as a future star riding the flying elephant – neglecting to tell her  he plans to have all safety nets removed.

It would not be a Tim Burton film without such dark detours and Vandevere supplies plenty more, even deciding to do away with Dumbo’s mother so she proves less of a distraction.

At last, the original circus employees, angry and inspired, decide to save Dumbo and his mom. It’s not like they have anything else to do.

By the time Keaton’s attraction is in ruins, his Wall Street financier, played by Alan Arkin, lets him know, “That’s a disaster.” The line might as well be describing the film as a whole.

“Dumbo” promises to be the first of many remakes and re-imaginings of past Disney hits, followed this summer by “Aladdin” (with Will Smith as the blue genie) and “The Lion King.”

One hopes more thought and care are found in the remakes yet to come.

Gage’s rating: One-and-one-half stars

I had not seen Walt Disney’s 1941 animated “Dumbo” in years and had been looking forward to seeing what they were going to come up with in this remade combination of CGI and live action.

When the first trailer was released, eagerness turned into worries and reluctance.

Watching the new “Dumbo,” my worries were transformed into full-blown disgrace. How could they ruin our memory of one of Disney’s most iconic movies of all time?

My first complaint: Dumbo doesn’t do more than just fly around. This Dumbo is a far lesser version of what he used to be and it’s clear this is a different movie.

Dumbo never is really a character in his own movie, often sidelined by other terrible characters.

Colin Farrell plays Holt Farrier, a former circus horseman who loses his arm during World War I. He is a typical father who cannot understand why his children do not want to be circus performers. Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins play his daughter and son, respectively, Milly and Joe. They are used to try to move the plot along and occasionally give Dumbo a feather.

The worst characters by far are V.A. Vandevere, played by Michael Keaton, and Max Medici, portrayed by Danny DeVito. Both are clichés, dragging the story down consistently through the final third of the film.

It pains me to even give the film any stars because it really is not a “Dumbo” movie. So much is missing from the original: the crows and Dumbo’s mouse friend. Too much is changed, such as the “Baby Mine” song … or added, like the Keaton and DeVito characters.

It hurts to see an iconic classic remade into garbage unworthy of any comparison with the original.

This is by far the worst Disney remake I have seen. If this is what’s in store for other Disney remakes coming this year, it could be a long year for Disney films and their fans. That said, I do have hopes that the new “Aladdin” will be more entertaining.