Dumbo isn’t a complete disaster of a movie but aside from some lovely looking cinematography the movie is generally a big mess.
Director: Tim Burton
Summary: A young elephant, whose oversized ears enable him to fly, helps save a struggling circus, but when the circus plans a new venture, Dumbo and his friends discover dark secrets beneath its shiny veneer.
There are plenty of things that can do wrong with a movie. Dumbo gets more things wrong than it gets right, and the movie overall is not an enjoyable experience. The beginning is a hasty retelling of the first movie and then proceeds to go completely off of the rails in the latter half. The problem very much comes down to script issues. Dumbo never seems to realize what kind of movie it wants to be and the tonal juxtaposition can be extremely jarring.
That problem is emphasized by the fact that Dumbo is not the main character of Dumbo. The movie is aiming for a more realistic edge which means that this version of Dumbo doesn’t talk. The CGI uses to bring him to life, something that was criticized in early footage, is the least problematic thing about the movie. Much in the same way everyone freaked out over the big eyes in Alita: Battle Angel you sort of get used to Dumbo as the movie goes on. However, no matter how expressive they make that baby elephant, you lose a certain level of pathos when you take away his voice. Now we need the human characters to help carry the emotional weight of the story and the humans aren’t anything to write home about.
To the credit of the cast it doesn’t feel like this was their fault at all. It would be easy lay the blame at the two kid actors, Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins, but that seems unfair. They aren’t so much bad as they are given very little to work with. The main reason we shouldn’t come down too hard on the kids is that veteran actors like Eva Green, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton, and Colin Farrell also get no help from the script. The story is very conventional when it comes to circus stories which is an odd choice. Once the quick retelling of Dumbo is over it’s onto a story we’ve heard a million times. Small family circus is bought by a Disney-esque rich man, rich man is not all he appears to be, small time family circus people must use their skills to save the day.
That is probably the most interesting part of Dumbo. These live-action remakes usually have some sort of meta commentary to make about the Disney cooperation. In this case it appears to be about big business coming in and taking joy and turning it into profit. V.A. Vandavere (Keaton) might be our villain, but there is a good chance that he and Walt Disney would have had a firm handshake over the idea of turning happiness into a profit via a theme park. The fact that the movie inevitably comes down on the side of small time family business as the Disney cooperation continues to buy out more and more studios shows either a profound lack of self awareness, or Disney is so self aware they are about to achieve nirvana.
That’s not to say that the movie is entirely bad. Director Tim Burton has his fingerprints all over this movie, even moreso once we get to Dreamland, and the costuming deserves kudos for making this a good looking movie. They do something a little fun with the infamous Pink Elephants on Parade and Baby of Mine but the problem is the good pieces are only pieces. Dumbo never forms of cohesive whole and unfortunately the bad or boring moments far outweigh the good.
Dumbo isn’t a complete disaster but it’s the weakest of the Disney live-action remakes so far. Between this and Beauty and the Beast being underwhelming we have to wonder what the future of these remakes will be. Disney has two more tries to hit it out of the park with Aladdin and The Lion King this year. However, with Dumbo, they aren’t off to a great start.
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