The Great War has just come to a close, and Holt (Colin Farrell) has returned with his left arm dismembered. And during the war, his wife ended up passing away from sickness, leaving their two kids by themselves in Max Medici’s (Danny DeVito) crumbling circus. Financial troubles are sprouting, primarily because this circus is independent and always on the railroad whereas other places are more grounded and more profitable as a result. The horses have to be sold. Medici tries to do it full price when the original buyer says half price, and then he threatens no deal...Scumbags. So Holt’s only job he can do to take care of his two kids, Millie and Joe, is taking care of the sick elephant, Mrs. Jumbo. Only she’s actually pregnant, and shortly after giving birth, the mother is dragged away to also be sold after a cataclysmic error that was partly her baby’s fault. But that baby has the special gift we all know and love, and Millie comes up with the idea to raise enough money from this now-called Dumbo to buy the mother back, but she and Joe keep their plan a secret from their Dad, who’d only say to be “logical” or something ambition-crushing. Whatever happens Millie, Joe and Dumbo know will be a rocky road but they have to try.
Normally everyone says to focus more on the animals and creatures rather than the human characters in a movie with the former in the spotlight. This movie doesn’t fulfill those desires. In this update that actually doesn’t feel anything like an update, we’re feasted with the fact human beings made themselves the biggest animal leader on Earth, and sometimes, even oftentimes, we disregard animals over ourselves. But then there are the people who care about the well-being of animals, and how much of a difference can be made with a little compassion.
This movie is also set before there was motion picture, therefore earlier than 1941 but only a few decades off. Also, while I haven’t seen the original Dumbo in longer than I can remember, I know it focused more on talking animals. What I’m saying is that Burton magnificently encapsulated humans from several generations ago, seeing their amazement yet cynicality at the circus that’s relatable to today.
The movie also plays with our expectations expertly. One of the early scenes involves Holt desperately attempting to debate with his boss over a job other than handling Mrs. Jumbo but Medici flat-out says “It’s the elephants or bust, no exceptions, suck your thumb if you must.” And Danny DeVito has played jerks in the past, most notably in Matilda, but we later see him fleshed out so much more than was necessary, and I loved it. Also, Colette (Eva Green, who previously played Miss Peregrine for Tim Burton) looks at first slimy with her spoiled attire and sharing Michael Keaton of all people’s hand in a bow in her introduction. But they make that character so relevant and surprisingly sweet that when I realized the angle Burton was taking Green’s character, I had a huge smile on my face.
I’m also always a sucker for cute animals. Dumbo’s innocent eyes and overall happiness whenever he’s actually enjoying himself in the tent reminded me a little bit of the beloved new Kitbull Pixar cartoon, and the animators managed to perfectly capture the same innocence of the original 2D Dumbo.
This reimagining of the 1941 classic is a family film as spectacular as circuses in general, as adorable as having a baby elephant leaning on your shoulder, as surprising as Farrell’s dismembered arm and as entertaining as a live Cirque du Soleil.