Dumbo 2019 is a good example of why Disney probably shouldn't remake all of their classics
At the very least, it is definitely better than Alice In Wonderland.
Despite not being very good, Tim Burton's live-action take on Alice's trippy adventures still made some serious bank, breaking $1 billion when it was released back in 2010.
It was the first in what would eventually become a tsunami of Disney taking their animated classics and giving them a real-world sheen; some of them good and making bank (The Jungle Book), some of them okay and making bank (Malificent, Beauty & The Beast, Cinderella), and some of them bad and making bank (Alice Through The Looking Glass).
Regardless of quality, they've all made money, so the live-action remake trend isn't going to be going anywhere for a while, but hopefully Disney will become more discerning with which classics they decide to give a do-over to.
Looking back now at the 1941 version of Dumbo, there are... problems.
It is 64 minutes long, for one. The plot consists of the baby elephant failing to do a stunt, but then later, doing the stunt. It featured a character named "Jim Crow" that is up there with one of the most racist things Disney has ever done (which is saying something). There is a prolonged scene where Dumbo and a small child get drunk and have a nightmarish hallucination.
Like we said. Problems.
2019 Dumbo doesn't really have these problems, but it does have a whole set of new problems all of its own.
We hit the ground running, learning a lot about Colin Farrell in a hurry: he has just come back from the war, lost an arm over there, has two kids here (one of which, his daughter, appears incapable of human emotion), their mother died of pneumonia while he was away at war, he was a talented horse-rider for the circus back in the day, but has come back to the now-struggling circus, all of the horses have been sold, and now he has to clean up the poop from the elephants.
We also learn that Farrell does his best in the role of a broken, distant father, but his accent sees every sentence begin in Ireland, before going on a walking tour of the southern states of America, and then ending up back in Ireland again.
We initially meet the travelling circus, including ringleader Danny DeVito (source of 50% of the movie's best lines) and his numerous acts, all trying to make ends meet, and during this opening half hour, the entire movie looks destined to drown in saccharine.
It is only when Michael Keaton (source of the other 50% of the movie's best lines) shows up, as a proto-Walt Disney who has heard about a flying elephant and wants it to be the centre of his theme park DisneyLand DreamLand.
This is the closest we've seen Keaton inject a character with the tweaking villainy of Beetlejuice in a long time, and seeing Burton direct his former Batman as the bad-guy and his former Penguin as the good guy does bring up a certain twisted glee.
It is also here that we actually spend a bit more time with the CGI Dumbo, undoubtedly the most likeable character in the whole movie, as he is trained by Keaton's biggest star/sorta girlfriend (Eva Green, the only person given more than one personality trait).
As the movie goes on, it gets incrementally better, slightly less boring, a little bit more visually interesting (Burton's vision of a theme park is all steam punk art deco... so... pretty much what he did to Gotham City), but it still can't actually find a reason to exist in the first place.
There are allusions to the mistreatment of animals in circuses, and a vague link between Dumbo's ears and Farrell's lost arm connecting them as outsiders and feeling like "freaks", but it is all so half-hearted and one-note, they might as well not have bothered.
Dumbo is the first of three live-action remakes Disney have coming out in 2019 alone. Here is hoping Aladdin and The Lion King have more going on under the surface than just to make money off a recognisable brand name.
Dumbo is release in Irish cinemas from Friday 29 March.
Clip via Disney UK