In its attempt to introduce its classics to a new generation of children but with the real intent of making money out of their parents using nostalgia, The House of Mouse is combing through its archives to remake its well-known properties. Dumbo is the latest of this corporate initiative.
Dumbo, a story about a misfit in a circus, is naturally directed by Tim Burton. The setting fits his gothic kid fantasy oeuvre. The detailed costume design is mixed with post-WW1 period details, carnival-inspired visuals, and garish art deco. While this gives you a spectacle to look at, it becomes evident early on that this is a hollow spectacle. Whatever this remake shares with the original stops once the CGI dumbo is revealed.
By the movie summary alone it’s clear that this Dumbo isn’t about Dumbo. Gone is the surreal coming-of-age tale of a flying elephant along with the subtle themes of discrimination, prejudice, isolation, and loneliness.
What you get is the classic tale of old fashioned capitalism and human greed, filled with Burtonesque caricatures leftover from Alice in Wonderland. The Medici Circus, on its last legs, is bought by a tycoon and incorporated into his own theme park – Dreamland.
Sounds familiar? The live-action remake of Dumbo is more of a subversive swipe at Disney, showcasing how its a bad idea to get bought by a conglomerate.
Vandevere is an ascot-wearing caricature of Walt Disney, whose Disneyland rip-off showcases a rebranded IP (at some point he sells Dumbo stuff toys). Later on, Dumbo finds his mom as a jungle exhibit after being shipped from a previous merger. At the same time, you get the typical corporate drills – lay-offs due to redundancies, a megalomaniac president, and the shareholder cutting his losses behind the scenes.
In this movie, The Farrier family eventually lives happily ever after and Vandevere gets his comeuppance. Dumbo and his mom are finally free. But we all know that the original foretold a more accurate ending – Dumbo becomes rich and famous with the help of a mouse, and his mom gets a better position at the circus hierarchy.
Whether this remake is a timely parable of Disney that Burton leaned into or Burton unwittingly made it so is up for debate. What’s clear is that Dumbo is a cash grab that’s interesting for the wrong yet ironically right reasons.
Dumbo is a blatant cash grab that turns the supposed story of a flying elephant into a tale of run-in-the-mill human greed.