There’s no question that the original 1941 release of Dumbo is a landmark animation release. It’s truly a triumph of the techniques of the time that come together to cement a piece of Disney history unlike any other.
Respecting a classic…
For one reason or another, I was not very excited for the 2019 remake of Dumbo. It could’ve been because I personally was not a fan of the original for a handful of reasons. Or maybe it was because (despite him being one of my favorite directors) the recent work of Tim Burton has been rather sub-par. Either way, I didn’t know what to expect. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised. From the first scene of the film, where a familiar score introduces itself while we see a newer, updated Casey Jr., I knew everything was going to be okay.
And yes, you heard that right, I was not a fan of the original. This isn’t a review of that film, so I won’t get into it, but to sum it up, I think the original release of Dumbo is very outdated today. Comparing the runtime of the two films alone – 112 minutes to the original’s 64 – it’s clear that Burton has a much larger story to tell.
Where I find faults in the original, I find nothing but success in this retelling. But that isn’t to say that Burton completely erases any memory of the original. I think this remake pays homage to the original by respecting its legacy, and building upon it to tell a new story. You don’t need to have seen the original at all to understand this new film, but there are certainly a few nods to it that those classic fans will pick up.
…and bringing it to life.
For the past 5 years, we’ve been subject to a new kind of Disney film – the remake. It’s become something of a joke that Disney just keeps remaking their classic movies, creating an endless cycle of profitability. I personally have not been very kind to these remakes. At the base level, I don’t understand the point of remaking a classic movie as they have been doing.
2015’s Cinderella, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, and (from the look of it) 2019’s The Lion King – just to name a few – all tell the exact same story as the original film they’re based on. The remake simply updates the graphics, or makes it “live action”, or adds a few new songs to the soundtrack, and doesn’t make any attempt at doing something radically different with the story. I don’t like these films because they seem like a waste of time. Yes, I would love to see Childish Gambino as Simba the lion, but I’d like even more to see him doing something I’ve never seen before, not exactly what I saw Matthew Broderick do 25 years ago.
I appreciated Maleficent for this reason. It wasn’t a remake of Sleeping Beauty, it was a retelling from a different perspective. Ultimately, I didn’t like that movie as a whole, but it’s the only “remake” that I felt actually justified its existence. That is, until Tim Burton’s Dumbo.
Dumbo (2019) takes the simple concept of the original movie, ‘a flying elephant in a circus’, and runs away with it. Burton’s movie does feature some of the same events as the original, but builds upon them in a way that is wholly unique and more powerful than the original was.
Burton was clearly the best choice to tell this story. Don’t go into this movie expecting his typical gothic atmosphere, but do expect his ability to turn a dark story or dark events into a bright and vibrant world. This movie feels very similar to his remake of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. From the soundtrack to the over-the-top visuals, they both respect the classic and truly bring it to life.
I’ll leave it at this – this is the movie we thought we were watching when we saw the original Dumbo. You can go back and watch the original and still respect it for its legacy, still honor the achievement it made, and still love the story it told. But watching Burton’s new take on the film brings back all of the wonder and amazement of truly seeing it for the first time. It’s the movie that made me a Dumbo fan.
Dumbo opens Friday, March 29, 2019 in theatres everywhere. You can read Zannaland’s original Dumbo animated feature review here.