The list of classic movies Disney has been making over the last decade or so continues to lengthen, with mixed results. So far, I’ve been surprised at the quality of some of these “live-action” (and brimming with CGI enhancements) remakes. I thought Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book were pretty damn good. Cinderella and Pete’s Dragon were okay. Maleficent, Alice Through the Looking-Glass … meh. Christopher Robin was a bad idea from the start. In theaters now we have Aladdin and The Lion King, both getting mixed reviews. I haven’t seen them. In the pipeline are Mulan and The Little Mermaid, and I’m probably missing some. Pinocchio? Please don’t, Disney folks …
Tim Burton is a director who is up and down in my estimation. He’s done some great ones, and he’s done some stinkers. This big elephant turd, dropped from a great height, stinks up the whole Big Top. Did you know that the original, classic 1941 Dumbo was only 64 minutes long? And every minute just burst with Disney magic. This poor pachyderm lumbers into the theaters at 112 minutes. (Of course, about
10 of those minutes are devoted to the endless credit crawl all CGI-heavy films need these days, but still.) And the movie just gets bigger and bigger and bigger, as if sheer size and number of CGI SFX will make up for the butchery of the story.
I will admit that at least some of the changes must have been virtually mandatory because of political correctness. Dumbo getting drunk? No, I guess that won’t fly (so to speak) today. So we lose the incredible hand-drawn animated imagery and song “Pink Elephants on Parade.” They make a lame and bloated attempt to salvage something with a short ballet of elephantine soap bubbles, but it’s just sad.
And, of course, you can’t have a group of four black crows speaking jazz jive in Negro accents, and singing “When I See an Elephant Fly,” as performed brilliantly by Cliff Edwards and the Hall Johnson Choir. Somebody will certainly shout racism!!!. Damn it, those crows were the smartest and funniest characters in the movie, and they sang like groups of the day, wonderful cats like the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers. But of course they had to go.
All of the sweetness of the original, and the story of Dumbo finally getting his wings … er … getting his ears and learning that he could fly is all tossed away in the first ten minutes, when he sneezes and flaps into the air. So the rest of the plot, some by-the-numbers bullshit about an evil circus owner, isn’t interesting at all.