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DUMBO: 3 ½ STARS. “a Tim Burton movie rather than a remake of the 1941 film.”

Much of Tim Burton’s live action remake of the Disney classic “Dumbo” concerns itself with putting on a great show. Set in a travelling circus whose ringmaster Max Medici (Danny DeVito) is always looking for new ways to entertain people, the movie made me ask, “Is it possible to put on too much show?”

The Medici Brothers Circus has seen better days. Crowds are sparse and to keep the travelling circus afloat Max has sold off their show horses. When former circus star Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns, injured from the war, his dream of starring in the big top are dashed. The only job available is tending to newly acquired elephant Jumbo. Medici purchased the pregnant pachyderm with the hope of having a baby elephant on display will sell tickets.

When the baby is born Max is convinced that Little Jumbo’s gigantic, floppy ears will turn him into a laughing stock and actually turn audiences off. It’s not until Farrier’s kids, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), discover Little Jumbo—now dubbed Dumbo after a catastrophic big top debut—can flap his ears like wings and fly that Max sees a way to earn back his investment. Enter amusement park entrepreneur V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) with an offer that could save the circus or endanger everyone, most of all Dumbo.

“Dumbo” treads familiar ground for director Tim Burton. His best films tell stories of outsiders like Pee-Wee Herman, Edward Scissorhands or Ed Wood, lovable characters who weren’t quite made for this world. He’s drawn to outcasts but finds a narrative route for them to find a connection and a sense of community through their abilities and art. “Dumbo” breathes the same air, focussing on old-fashioned caricatures of circus folk like strongmen and mermaids, and, of course, the underdog elephant whose unique ability makes him a hero.

As such “Dumbo” feels like a Tim Burton movie rather than a remake of the 1941 film. His trademark whimsy is fully on display in the form of highly stylized design, fanciful casting and costuming and, “What’s a Tim Burton movie without Danny DeVito?” It looks and feel like a Burton film for better and for worse.

The better is his unique and heartfelt love of the unloved. He coddles his characters, imbuing Dumbo with soulful eyes to compliment his outsize ears. It’s almost impossible to understand how anyone couldn’t see the beauty in this unusual creature. Dumbo is a waif, an innocent whose inner beauty and strength is well beyond his years. Burton gets the character and keeps Dumbo mostly front and centre as the action swirls around him.

Here’s the issue. There’s too much action. The original film was a brief 63 minutes, a tight telling of the tale. Burton almost doubles that length, adding in anti-corporate subplots, action sequences and new characters. Near the film’s end, however, the extra elements feel superfluous, unnecessary. Sometimes more is less. The heart of the story is found in Dumbo’s character not the layers of CGI action that surround him.

Having said that, “Dumbo” is a treat for the peepers. Every detail from the costumes to Medici’s grinning faced-train are pure Burton eye-candy. Fun performances from DeVito and Keaton keep things lively and the pro-animal message is heartfelt adding up to a movie that doesn’t seem to trust its star, a flying elephant, to be enough of a draw.

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