Review: Dumbo

As one of my most anticipated movies of 2019, I walked into the theatre last night excited to see how this 78-year-old story could be given new life through a combination of Disney and Tim Burton. The recent CGI/live-action Disney surge has had it’s ups (The Jungle Book) and downs (everything Alice and Wonderland) and everything in-between (Christopher Robin, Beauty and the Beast, Maleficent & Cinderella) over the past ten years, and I expected Dumbo to easily soar into that first category. But even with the adorable floppy ears, it didn’t fly quite up to those heights. Falling just short, I think it lands among the in-betweeners. Personally, I still touched down on the side of enjoying the movie for the element of Disney magic, but it won’t be very memorable.
I had to do some legwork to remember the original Dumbo story because it has been probably 20 years since I watched the classic Disney film, but I think it was worth it in order to tease out what worked and what didn’t with Burton’s version. A quick synopsis of this one is that Dumbo is born into a circus family, and a widower, just back from war, is tasked to care for him along with his two kids. When they discover Dumbo’s ability to fly, and word gets out, an amusement park owner buys the circus act and puts Dumbo in the spotlight. But as Disney does well, families get torn apart, leaving the original circus crew to risk a daring rescue to save both Dumbo and his mom.
This time around Dumbo was surrounded with many human characters to drive the plot forward. I think the main characters did a fine job, but none of them really stood out because they were each lacking something for me. Danny Devito as the ringleader/circus owner is funny, but gets ousted by Michael Keaton for the third act. Keaton, the park owner, is eccentric but loses most character credit in his final sequence. The dad, Mr. Farrier (Colin Farrell), is given some depth right away, but apathetically seems to only have development when other characters tell him to do something. And Eva Green (Bond’s love interest in Casino Royale) is introduced to care for both Dumbo and the Farrier family, but is quickly elevated to “new mom” status without much going for her. The only bright spot in characters were the kids, especially the daughter (newcomer Nico Parker), who shows emotional depth and ambition throughout the film.
In addition to characters lacking substance, this film lacked Burton. I really wanted to see him do something weird and unique with Dumbo, but I just didn’t see it. I mean, you have one of the strangest, most creative directors currently working, and the best you can do is pull in Michael Buffer to introduce Dumbo with a wrestling call-back?!? F- for creativity. There were several Burton trademarks, like the awkward outcast, clowns and makeup, a wealthy antagonist, and even a dirty joke (watch for the man with binoculars), but the feel of this film wasn’t Burton. The closest it got was with the pink elephant bubbles scene. Maybe his vision was stifled by Disney, but whatever conspired, it didn’t result in a Burton film. What it resulted in was a movie with a third act that almost ruined it all for me, as everything seemed to happen just to advance the plot, without reason. Alan Arkin’s side-character sums it up as he steps into the chaos and says in a not-so-subtle way, “This is a disaster.” I liked how they made this film different from the first, especially the conclusion, but overall it just didn’t live up to expectations.
So this one was a bit of a let-down for me, but like I said, I was still able to enjoy the movie for what it was. It wasn’t the worst live-action Disney movie, by far, and the positive spin is that we have two more iconic remakes coming to theatres this summer in Aladdin (May 24) and The Lion King (July 19). I wasn’t looking forward to these as much as Dumbo for a few reasons, but mostly because they are two of my favorites and I don’t want to see them ruined 🙂 So, let’s hope Disney delivers! If you read all these words and posts that I do, thank you. You don’t have to, I get it, they’re generally long and full of improper grammar/sentence structure. But if you do like to read them for some odd reason, let me know by sharing thoughts or feelings about the movies/tv shows and my take on them, either on the post itself or over on my Facebook page (Red Beard Movie Reviews). I’ll likely have another one or two reviews to close out this weekend and my Spring Break, as I attempt to slow down at the most inopportune time: the start of late-spring/early-summer blockbusters. Cheers!

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