The Disney nostalgia train rumbles on with Tim Burton back at the throttle — not quite throttling the iconic tale of the flying baby elephant, but only barely rising to the challenge, sort of like Casey Junior struggling to clear that daunting hill.
One of the surprises of revisiting Disney’s 1941 cartoon Dumbo is how the famous magic feather is barely a thing.
Dumbo’s magic feather went on to become a substantial pop-culture metaphor, referenced in everyday speech and in titles to books and articles, blending the placebo effect, Linus’ security blanket and believing in yourself.
On The Orville a couple of years ago, Seth MacFarlane had the first officer tell the captain, “It’s not the feather, Dumbo; it’s you.” A Google search suggests that some people now “remember” Timothy Q. Mouse saying these words in the cartoon, though what he actually says is less inspirational: “The magic feather was just a gag. You can fly. Honest, you can!”
One of the things Burton’s Dumbo gets right is that the feather gets more attention, along with Dumbo’s flying. In the cartoon we don’t see Dumbo flying until the last few minutes, which would have made sense for an animated short, but when a feature film is about a flying elephant, the elephant should, you know, fly.
Alas, the list of things this new Dumbo gets right is not long.
You can see that they’re trying, andnot entirely unsuccessfully. We’re worlds way from Burton’s dreadful Alice in Wonderland, which kicked off the current wave of Disney remakes.
Back then, it looked like the future belonged to darkly subversive, revisionist fairy tales deconstructing their source material.
Somebody has to say it: Made at the height of Disney’s early brilliance alongside Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Pinocchio, and Bambi, Dumbo is the odd weak link in the chain.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.