The Little Elephant That Could

Stars: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Finley Hobbins, Nico Parker and Alan Arkin
Director: Tim Burton
Scriptwriter: Ehren Kruger from the novel by Harold Pearl and Helen Aberson
Composer: Danny Elfman
Cinematographer: Ben Davis
Disney Productions
Rated: PG for some violence and themed material
Running Length: 112 Minutes 

If animals in circus life and cages are not your thing, be forewarned. The original film, “Dumbo” had me in tears when I saw it first as a child.  Though the film came out in 1941, it went periodically around the country, usually accompanied by cartoons of other Disney characters. Another Disney film, “Bambi,” (1942) was a tearjerker, and that film, too, came around the country periodically.  Going to the movies wasn’t always fun if you came home crying for a baby elephant or a small deer separated from its mother.  Guess what? “Dumbo” is back on the silver screen and bring handkerchief. Though, at 60 minutes, the first “Dumbo” was a complete story to watch, the 2019 “Dumbo” has added features and new characters to make an interesting story about elephants, circus performers, circus owners, family, and the usual villain. In this case the villain is Michael Keaton who owns an amusement park called “Dreamland.” (sound familiar?) A trivia note here: if the child actress, Milly, looks familiar, her mother is the actress Thandie Newton. One of the highlight songs from “Dumbo” is “Pink Elephants On Parade” from the original film. The soundtrack in 1941 was by Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace and won an Oscar. The 2019 soundtrack is by Danny Elfman. 

“Dumbo” begins with the Medici Brothers Circus owned by Max (Danny DeVito).  One of the performers, Holt (Colin Farrell) has come back from WWII with a disability, but stays on, with wife and children (Milly and Joe played by Finley Hobbins.) Their specialty is working with horses. Max bought a mature elephant (Mrs. Jumbo) and wants Holt to care for her, and suddenly, the elephant gives birth to a baby boy---with large ears.  People tease the little elephant and eventually start calling him “Dumbo” instead of “Jumbo. Jr.” Time passes and the little elephant is brought into the circus acts, but usually gets nervous and can’t perform to the amusement of the crowd. Dumbo’s friends are Milly and Joe and a small mouse.  It is discovered by accident that Dumbo can fly, when he sneezes with the use of a feather.  (Is this how Superman learned? Just asking…) There are various adventures and scenes of peril and scenes of separation (remember the hankie).  

The Disney animation certainly makes Dumbo look life-like. A far cry from over 70 years ago, when animation was just that…animation. The story line of Dumbo and his mother and their separation is handled well, and you sometimes wince at the ignorance of humans toward animals. I remember a game warden once telling me that an animal caught in a trap does not feel pain. Danny Elfman’s music has just the right touch to the story line and Elfman has worked with director Tim Burton before. The sometimes-darker lighting adds to the sadder parts of the story. “Pink Elephants On Parade” is there, too. 

As for human actors, Danny DeVito is Danny DeVito and plays the circus owner with panache. Colin Farrell has more acting to do and does it well, working with a handicap and trying to keep his job. The children, Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins are good, as they try to help the little elephant.  Michael Keaton, as the villain, does his sneering sidelong glance, and Eva Green as the trapeze artist does well. Though this “Dumbo” really has two stories in one film, that of trying to keep a circus together and then the animal part of it, eventually it fits together. Just when you have an elephant episode, along comes something about the circus. I was satisfied and the friendship between an elephant and a mouse? Why not? 

So, “Dumbo” (2019) is a story and a story, while “Dumbo” (1941) is a story and that’s that.  See one and rent the other and have hankies for both. 

Question…who is Dumbo’s father? Anyone know? 


Copyright 2019 Marie Asner