ROGER THOMAS FILM REVIEW: ‘Dumbo’: A new version of a classic, but is it better?

Published 11:00 am Thursday, April 18, 2019

I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. My mother took my brother and I to the movie theatre often if there was something child-appropriate available. We got most excited when the film was a work of Disney.

My favorite three films when I was young were animated features that I saw several times and always loved. These were: 1941’s “Dumbo,” 1946’s “Song of the South” and 1967’s “The Jungle Book.”

Roger Thomas

(Note that “Song of the South” was only animated for about half the film. Also, let me note “Song of the South” is locked in the Disney vault because the film depicts slavery in a much more cheerful way than reality. The truths of the horrible situations of slavery does not belong in a film for children. I applaud Disney’s decision to not show the film anymore, but as a young child I did enjoy the animated portion of “Song of the South.”)

As for “The Jungle Book,” the 1967 version was remade in 2016. I love both versions.

I saw the 1967 “Jungle Book” for the first time when I was 4, and I still hum the songs.

And then there is “Dumbo.”

I like elephants. I always have. I am not sure which release of “Dumbo” I saw, but I was pretty young and absolutely enchanted.
“Dumbo” was amazing.

And now, we have a new version. Brought to us by the same studio, “Disney,” the story of the flying baby elephant is once again on the screen.

I was excited before I saw the film. I was charmed for the first 20 minutes or so. I believed the filmmakers had done a very creative live-action version of a classic animated feature that many, including me, have loved for most of our lifetimes.

However, within less than a half-hour, I found myself disappointed.

And it only got worse.

There is an opening scene when the characters are being introduced to the audience. There are several people and animals that needed to be pointed out. The opening casual introductions achieves that perfectly.

There is humor and explanation about many things. But the best element is that this fantasy goes along at a perfect speed. The audience is meeting the characters. There is humor and regret. I was actually thinking, “This may be one of the best films I have a seen in a while.”

And then it came crashing down.

The first mistake was allowing Dumbo the Elephant to fly much too early in the story. That was the climax in the original film, or at least much later.

I sat in the theater thinking, “How can Dumbo already fly? What is the plot of the rest of the film?”

I will not answer that in this review, but I found none of the latter three quarters of this new film to be as good as the original film.

Here are some general elements that disappointed me.

I did not like how Dumbo looked. There were other creatures created for the film, but the title character, at least to me, seemed fake.

I also did not like the film after the setting changed.

What exactly was this new world? How did all this happen? Did the presence of Dumbo create all that money that is implied in the film?

Since I have questions, I assume some children will also. The last two-thirds of the film just continued to spiral down into a story that I no longer wanted to watch.

I held out hope, but the film was never what I hoped it to be.

I still hold fast to those 20 minutes that started the film. So much potential. So much regret that after those 20 minutes, little was left that entertained or moved this critic.

I will offer one final positive thought. The filmmakers used the song “Baby Mine” in the new film. Back in 1941 when “Baby Mine” first appeared in the original film, it was nominated for “Best Song” and won the Oscar for “Best Score for a Musical Film.”

Using that old Disney classic song is the best decision that was made for the new version of “Dumbo.”

Roger W. Thomas of Albemarle reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.