Dumbo Movie Review
Dumbo Movie Review Metadata
Dumbo is the latest in a string of live-action remakes of classic Disney films (next up: Aladdin and The Lion King). Tim Burton’s peculiar brand of filmmaking helms this effort, which while distinctly Burton and does pay homage to the original, amounts to an emotionless and hollow entry in both Disney and Burton’s catalog.
Opening to a montage of an era where the traveling circus was a staple of live entertainment, Dumbo follows The Medici Brothers Circus as it tours the southern U.S. The circus, hampered by financial woes and illness, is helmed by Max Medici (Danny DeVito) – there isn’t a brother to speak of. Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) are two kids who live and travel with the circus because their mother (now deceased) and father Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) were once horse-riding headliners. Holt has just returned from war, minus an arm, limiting his riding ability and relegating him to the only open position: elephant duty.
A pregnant elephant, Mrs. Jumbo, is the latest Medici acquisition. Her newborn elephant is to be the next headlining attraction sure to save the struggling circus. That is until it is revealed baby Dumbo has abnormally large ears. He’s quickly labeled a freak. Luck changes however, when the kids discover that with the help of feathers, Dumbo can use his ears to fly. But the road to success is always bumpy and an unfortunate event forces Medici to sell Mrs. Jumbo away from her baby. (Somehow) with the promise that mother and child will once again be reunited someday, Dumbo shocks and delights audiences with his feat of flight.
The astonishing revelation captures the attention of P.T. Barnum-like entrepreneur V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who offers Medici partnership and residence at his Dreamworld super-amusement park – it turns out that Mrs. Jumbo is a shackled attraction in the same park. Vandevere, searching for greater fortune, wants his jewel trapeze artist, Colette (Eva Green), to fly with Dumbo. But Vandevere’s greed heavily outweighs the safety of Dumbo (and Colette) and well-being of his mother, making it clear to Holt and his kids that they need to rescue the elephants.
On the one hand, Dumbo, as a live-action remake is hard to imagine under anyone else’s direction than Burton. The fantastical tale and circus atmosphere seem so in his lane. But on the other, Burton’s signature muted characters and palette distract from plot. That’s abundantly obvious in Dumbo which already suffers from an anemic story. It’s as about as basic a “don’t judge a book by its cover” lesson as there is and while Burton does an acceptable job making Dumbo feel like a freak with amazing talents, the director struggles to fill-in the story with interesting side-quests and characters, instead opting to pay homage to the classic cartoon with intrusive recreations of Timothy Q. Mouse and the psychedelic balloon (bubbles in this instance) elephant dance. The all-CGI elephants exude more emotion (albeit tiny) than any human character in the movie, including the children. That’s hugely disturbing. It’s tough to care about a movie when the circus and it’s performers are lifeless and hollow.
As with any kid-friendly movie we review…I took my three kids to see Dumbo. The youngest (4yo) found his frozen drink more entertaining than the movie. Our 6yo absolutely loved it. The oldest (10yo) thought the movie was entertaining but wasn’t thrilled.