Dumb And Dumbo

April 6 , 2019. By Christian Tesfaye( Christian Tesfaye was Fortune’s Op-Ed Editor and currently works as a researcher. He can be reached at christian.tesfaye@addisfortune.net. )


Dumbo is one more example of how little Disney cares about its legacy. The live-action remake of the 1941 movie of the same name is as tedious as it is unoriginal. Christian Tesfaye awards 4 out of 10 stars.


The Disney Studio had early in this century a nifty idea that would make its shareholders giddy while also managing to completely frustrate audiences. It is a company with a long history of animated classics, which it now is pumping out in live-action form. None of the characters and stories would be improved on - it would just be the same thing, only not animated thanks to the wonders of computer-generated imagery.

Alas, we have already gotten monotonous live-action remakes of Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella and a somewhat amusing Jungle Book. In the near future, we will also get what are bound to be disappointing remakes of Aladdin, with Will Smith playing the Genie, and The Lion King. The latter is nothing less than the film-equivalent of blasphemy.

Disney likes to call them live-action reimagining. I call them the greediest attempt by any studio to besmirch its most memorable classics.

The most recent live-action “reimagining” is Dumbo, directed by Tim Burton and starring Colin Farrell. It is a 170-million-dollar movie about a flying baby elephant.

The film begins as Holt (Will Farrell), father of two, and former circus performer, returns from World War I with just one arm. It would seem that he would have a hard time returning to a normal life, but he fits right in while also from time to time grumbling about his amputated left arm.

Medici (Danny DeVito), who owns the circus, has bought an elephant which he, uncharacteristic for a person in his position, is hoping will give birth to a normal looking elephant. The plan does not go his way when what she gives birth to Dumbo, an elephant with very large ears.

But Dumbo has a talent - do not all weirdos have it in movies? - which Holt’s two children recognise early. The elephant, against every theory of physics on flight, can fly. It even seems Dumbo has special muscles that allow him to use his ears to fly.

The elephant becomes an instant hit and the circus triumphs. Trouble though comes when a greedy, rich and ruthless business person - who must be a fictional version of Disney’s executives - arrives looking to commercialise Dumbo with no thought for the elephant’s safety or the other members of the circus.

Dumbo is an unexciting and dull film with stiff actors and a lazy script. This is stranger still. If there is one person in Hollywood that is an expert in making a movie about a social reject in a world that is as quirky as its inhabitants, it is Tim Burton, the director of this movie.

Unfortunately, Burton has not been Tim Burton for some time. As he had gotten richer and more popular, he has become more mainstream and boring. Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children have led to his artistic demise.

Even when Burton made bad movies in the past, it was still possible to notice his artistic flair in the visuals of the film, perhaps except in the Planet of the Apes. This is not the case in Dumbo, where he is completely unrecognisable. He has managed to make a movie that rejects every single contribution Burton has ever made to cinema in his young age when he gave us movies full of excitement, heart and grit, such as Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Disney will soon run out of remakes - of course, there are no assurances there will not be a live-action Inside Out movie - and this phase will end. We just have to holdout for a little while longer. I, myself, plan to go into a coma for the first three months of the release of The Lion King remake.



PUBLISHED ON Apr 06,2019 [ VOL 19 , NO 988]



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