Dumbo movie cast: Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton, Eva Green, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Roshan Seth
Dumbo movie director: Tim Burton
Dumbo movie rating: 2 stars
Once upon a time there was a flying elephant, with ears longer than its legs and eyes as big as saucers, who longed for his mother and, on a moon-lit night, desperately reached out to her through the window bars of her cage, and for a brief moment they held on to each other by intertwining their trunks. As far as magical moments go, one can hardly better this.
How then does Tim Burton, a director who does fantasy best and eccentric better, take this well-loved Disney classic and turn it into a plodding bore? One answer is the actors chosen for crucial roles, such as Farrell, Green and Keaton. Circus members in various capacities, each play their roles with a resignation that hardly channels the magic this film needs in order to work. Keaton, playing to his strengths, still shines once in a while, but Farrell, as the only parent to two young children, is surprisingly and completely out of sorts.
Having filled the Disney story with many such humans, unlike the original film, Burton doesn’t even get an inspiring performance from its two young children (played by Parker and Hobbins), who coax the flying skills out of Dumbo. Plus how they achieve that is never very credible or explained well. And then there is Roshan Seth, playing the “wise” Indian snake charmer, dispensing homilies such as “in my land, they believe God lives in some animals”, never without his turban.
Towards the end, the film takes another turn, and in a very 21st-century morality touch (the film is set in 1919, just after WWI), decides animals shouldn’t be in cages after all. There are not many to begin with in the first place, but for the elephants, an irritating monkey, and some white mice.
In a world full of wondrous things, wonder is the thing in shortest supply. Burton had a chance to make you believe that a pregnant caged elephant, who has spent her life in circuses, could look at soaring birds through a barred window in envy and what may result is an elephant with flapping ears for wings.
He squanders it.