A young elephant with oversized ears helps a struggling circus succeed. When the circus goes on to their next endeavor, the people that worked in the circus start to realize the new endeavor isn’t quite what it’s supposed to be.
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins
MPAA Rating: PG for peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief mild language
Fun Fact: Eva Green is afraid of heights but was able to overcome her fears working with a performer doing her stunts.
Dumbo is the latest of the Disney live action remakes to be released. There has been so many of these that I will admit that it’s been hard for me to keep up with them. Well now with Disney+ I’m able to seek these movies out at my own pace. The animated version is an all time classic and it was interesting to me that the studio decided to update a film in their back catalog that’s almost 80 years old.
So how does this newer version play out? We get a mixed bag of both enjoyable and passable. It’s not a horrible movie by any means, it’s just has its moments and some of the decisions don’t play out as they should. For starters a good decision was having Tim Burton direct this. I don’t have to go into detail because we all know Burton’s style. The film looks beautiful and the visuals are pleasant to look at. For someone that is more of a fan of practical effects, I ended up enjoying the CGI. The film was filmed on a sound stage and it looks photo realistic. With this CGI work, we go into a world that has a classic feel for the time period. Burton makes his films visually interesting and this is no exception. The best work goes into Dumbo the character himself. The character is charming and has adorable moments that will get to the viewer. For a movie about this character he needs to be the star of the show and the work on him paid off.
The movie also has a couple of great messages for children, families, and or people in general. One of the messages presented is just because you are different doesn’t mean that you don’t have any value to anything. Yes, Dumbo is the outsider and while people make fun of him, he over comes the obstacles to achieve what he needs to achieve. His mother is protective of him and it’s an amazing quality to have shown in the movie. Another is the anti-animal cruelty message that the film gives us. It’s a much-discussed topic this day and age and it’s presented well for children.
While those things work for the movie, here is where we get the questionable parts of the movie. The script written by Ehren Kruger is all over the place. The basic story is that Dumbo is separated from his mother and all Dumbo wants to do is get back with her, which is a fine and basic story. It brings a new spin to Dumbo which is nice to see because it’s not a carbon copy of the original. While the story is there the thing that brings it down is how the human characters are written. We get some characterizations and most of the characters are just stock, especially the villains. Michael Keaton plays Vandevere, who just doesn’t have much to him other than he’s a guy in a suit and is greedy for money. In fact, all the villains wear suits and its cliché and overdone a hundred times over. Keaton also delivers an odd performance that just didn’t work for me and this is coming from a big Keaton fan. The children characters could’ve used more characterization. We know a bit about the girl character as she wants to be a scientist, but the boy we don’t really know much. The performances are not bad or anything, but it would be nice to know more. The climax is a little confusing for a film like this because it’s this giant action scene that doesn’t make sense. True the climax should be your big action point, but for a movie like Dumbo it feels out of place. Then again, it’s from the writer from a few Transformers films so that’s his strong suit.
The thing that got me questioning the film is that the human characters have more screen time and focus than Dumbo has. Dumbo is the selling point of the film and he should be the focus. When we get the scenes about Dumbo it’s good, but we must sit through some scenes with the humans to get there. That goes back to an awkwardly written script that had potential.
Overall, Dumbo is an awkwardly written film that does have some good to it. It’s visually nice to look at and the CGI work is top notch. Tim Burton still has that visual creativity that we have know to love and with a story about an outsider it’s right in his alley. What doesn’t work is that the story is kind of all over the place. While it does have great messages for children and people in general, it doesn’t really flow. There is stuff that I enjoyed so I would say that if you have Disney+ give it a shot.
Verdict: Middle Ground