Dumbo continues the new Disney trend of remaking their animated classic movies into live-action films. In my opinion (which is all I really have to offer), Disney’s live-action remakes have been 50/50. Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella is wonderful, Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book is spectacular and easily the best of the bunch. But Beauty and the Beast was okay, Maleficent felt like a departure for its original, and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland just didn’t do it for me. I really like Tim Burton. I love how imaginative his stories are and how strange and unusual the characters he creates are. Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, and Beetlejuice being my favourites of his. Dumbo, in an odd sort of way, is a really good fit for Burton’s style and tone. Certainly a better fit than most other Disney animated movies. However this stretched out version of a 64 minute original movie doesn’t quite get to that upper tier of Disney live-action remakes, but instead falls somewhere in the Beauty and the Beast realm. Just okay.
While there is nothing I hated or even strongly disliked about this film, there are story and character motives that weigh this film down and hold it back from its full potential. Dumbo is about a father (Colin Farrell) returning home from war to his two kids and the circus they travel with. After a few budgetary issues with the circus, Holt (Colin Farrell) is demoted to working with the elephants after his horses in his act are sold to help cover costs around the circus. Soon after, a pregnant elephant gives birth to an abnormally large eared elephant, Dumbo. Being deemed a freak of nature, Dumbo begins to prove he’s much more than what he looks like.
Dumbo, the character, is adorable. Anytime he’s on screen, your heart melts a little bit. The CG for his character design is quite good. Whenever his big eyes look out in wonder to things going on around him, it will bring a smile to your face and warm your heart. The Purple Elephants on Parade scene is fun and weird like you would expect. I sometimes wonder if that scene alone was the only reason Tim Burton took on this project.
The scene in which Dumbo first takes flight in front of an audience is the best scene in the whole movie. The tension set up for it was really well done and when he finally takes flight, it’s as magical as you could possibly want it to be. Danny DeVito is probably my favourite character in the movie. He has the funniest lines and I just really like the guy. Also, can I say I think it’s pretty cool we get a Batman Returns reunion in this movie!
When I realized we might be in trouble with this story was when a certain scene happens in the first act (we all know the scene) and I didn’t feel emotional from it. When one of your most important and pivotal scenes doesn’t pull that reaction from you, that’s a problem. The emotional weight of this film is unearned throughout the whole story. I didn’t grow to care for really any of these characters. Which is disappointing to say coming from a Tim Burton movie. He does damage, lonely characters really well and it’s a shame he’s unable to bring that to this film. These characters would fit so well for that kind of treatment. I really missed Burton in this film. I didn’t feel his presence as strongly as he should have been in this movie. I think he would have improved a lot of the emotional stake in this film if he had learned more into what makes his filmmaking unique, which in turn would have made the characters more unique and maybe we would have cared about them more then we did. Instead, Burton takes a safer approach which I think is a disservice to himself.
Dumbo is an okay movie. Nothing appalling, nothing to hate necessarily. Just a decent flick, with glimpses of an imaginative story, a cute and adorable protagonist and a few fun characters sprinkled throughout. Dumbo lacked in creativity and compelling lead human characters, but at the end of the day, I think this would be a fun movie for families to enjoy.