Tim Burton's Dumbo remake is no big deal
Damon Smith reviews director Tim Burton's live-action remake of the Disney animated classic Dumbo starring Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton and Danny De Vito
YOU'LL believe a digitally-rendered elephant can fly as quixotic director Tim Burton unleashes his wondrous imagination on a live-action reworking of Disney's 1941 animation.
Like its hand-drawn predecessor, Dumbo opens with a soaring flock of storks and one of the first creatures to befriend the titular pachyderm is a peanut-chomping mouse in a red ringmaster's outfit.
The hallucinogenic, champagne-fuelled Pink Elephants On Parade sequence is cleverly repurposed by Burton as one of his film's most visually striking and moving vignettes.
In almost all other respects, Ehren Kruger's script packs its trunk and says goodbye to the outdated circus of racially stereotyped black crows, razzle dazzling our retinas with a giddy visual whirl akin to The Greatest Showman.
The title character, convincingly conjured through special effects wizardry, is instantly lovable as he emerges from a mound of hay and trips over his oversized ears.
"A face only a mother could love," cruelly observes Danny DeVito's circus owner, alluding to a line by an elephant in the 1941 original, who dismisses Dumbo as a freak with "ears that only a mother could love".
Children will tumble headfirst into the pools of the creature's baby blue eyes and cheer every time he swoops over the heads of cruel detractors, giving wings to a core message to never judge by appearance.
Kentucky horseback rider Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns home from the First World War to a travelling circus run by Max Medici (DeVito).
In Holt's absence, his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) have coped alone with the death of their mother from influenza, which hit the circus "like a hurricane".
Holt begrudgingly tends the elephants and one of the females gives birth to a floppy-eared baby, which Medici christens Jumbo.
Milly and Joe discover the newborn can fly with the aid of a feather and their father incorporates Jumbo's gravity-defying talent in the clowns' daredevil fire-rescue routine.
News coverage of Medici's miracle piques the interest of showman VA Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who persuades Medici to join his big top with a promise of jobs for the entire troupe.
For the show's centrepiece, the money-grabbing entrepreneur orders Holt to train Jumbo to soar around the ring with aerial artiste Colette Marchant (Eva Green) perched on the animal's back.
Dumbo lacks the old-fashioned charm of the animated film and some of its heart-tugging emotion but as a spectacle filled with hastily sketched human protagonists, Burton's vision is bountiful.
The director tempers his deliciously macabre tendencies to deliver a family-friendly fairytale that ends on a note of animal liberation not exploitation or captivity.
Every time the plucky elephant took flight, I desperately wanted my heart to soar with him.
More often than not, though, I remained rooted to the ground.
DUMBO (PG, 112 mins) Fantasy/Adventure/Action/Romance. Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Eva Green, Danny DeVito, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins. Director: Tim Burton.