The Elephant in the Room

The old Dumbo: dark and weird.

Old Tim Burton (as in, the claim-to-fames of his youth): dark and weird.

Tim Burton’s new Dumbo: neither.

Actually, “DISNEY’s new Dumbo” is probably a more apropos designation.

Dumbo and Burton are just the latest victims of the Mickey Mouse Money House’s predilection for commercializing legit creativity into commodified products, squandering and squashing the participants’ personal artistry in the mechanized process. It can’t be a coincidence that Burton’s worst movies have come from the (self-labeled) happiest place on Earth; cash factories are primarily in the business of business.

A microcosm of this macro-machination: the digitized magic hour; instead of doing the work to capture this goldenest of 60ish minutes, Disney can simply rely on computers! Another example: how the new one reduces the old’s pinnacle of imagination; the dynamic light-and-shadow, 2D, hand-drawn design of the surrealist dance sequence is here recreated as…CGI bubbles.

But I’m not here to harp on Hollywood’s CGInfestation (™ = me) problem. Quite the opposite, in fact. As much as I’d love to wax poetic about how the 1s and 0s match the robotic execution of their equally-soulless, flesh-and-blood companions, technology was probably the key to solving Dumbo’s main issue, which is one of focus.

Updating the IP allowed for a mix of animation and live-action impossible to achieve back in 1941. And yet, computers don’t justify reorienting the story around corporeal humans. In the first, Dumbo’s the protagonist, the focal point the narrative not only revolves around, but almost exclusively follows. In 2019, he’s merely a vehicle — quite literally — for typically-childproof, facacta action-adventure exploits.

But Caesar’s Planet of the Apes — and, to a lesser degree, Gollum’s Lord of the Rings before it (or, is Andy Serkis’ Planet of the Apes and Andy Serkis’ Lord of the Rings more apropos? Also, a question that popped into my head while watching her King Lear on Broadway: was Glenda Jackson Serkis’ inspiration for Gollum’s voice?) — demonstrate the capacity of visual effects, when they’re the predominant engine of artistic expression, to open up worlds of storytelling that transcend the bounds of Homo Sapiens. The new Apes trilogy sags whenever the audience is reflected onscreen because we’re used to seeing ourselves up there; since 21st century technology paves the way for a new brand of photorealistic, animal-dominated tales, studios should have the courage of their convictions and go all out CGI.

We don’t need humans as an access point, as a relatable window through which to engage with a yarn. Visual effects are as capable of creating emotional arcs as they are of spectacle; plus, animals pull on our heartstrings like no other. There’s more underneath Dumbo’s CGeyes (see what I did there?) than underneath Dumbo’s cinematic trunk.


  • Danny DeVito: Hammy in a canned way.
  • Michael Keaton: Hammy in a delectable way. Danny goes through the motions of chewing the scenery; Mikey scarfs it down.
  • Alan Arkin’s inexplicable cameo: Canned past its expiration date.

Though I appreciate Dumbo‘s anti-capitalism bent, it’s more of a half-assed gesture that  rings a bit hollow coming from…[checks notes]…Disney, which might be the reason this strand ends on such a saccharine platitude.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s