REVIEW: “Dumbo”; A Baby Elephant With A Ton Of Heart; The Movie, Not So Much
So, first: the good. Dumbo, and I mean baby elephant Dumbo––not the movie––is unbelievably cute. If I had to rate just Dumbo as a character, I would give him a 10/10. I mean, he really is the heart of this picture. And this movie is worth the price of admission just to see your kids’ faces when they see Dumbo interact on the screen.
Unfortunately, the movie as a whole is another one of Disney’s cash grabs where the convert a beloved Disney animated classic into a not-so-spectacular live action version. And like so many in the past, some things work, and some things do not.
In this version of Dumbo, Max Medici (Danny DeVito) is the owner of a struggling traveling circus. He purchases an elephant from the Far East with hopes that once she gives birth to her baby, people will flock to the circus in droves to get a glimpse of the cute baby elephant. But once Dumbo is revealed to the circus, he is looked at as a freak because of his incredibly big ears. Dumbo is befriended by Holt (Colin Farrell) and his two children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). The kids soon discover that Dumbo has an extraordinary talent in which his oversized ears can actually be used to make him fly. Dumbo becomes a star in the Medici Circus and eventually catches the eye of a rival circus owner, V.A. Vandervere (Michael Keaton), but he has much bigger and more elaborate aspirations for Dumbo in his circus. The only thing that Dumbo really wants is to be reunited with his mother. Will Dumbo be reunited with his mother and will they both live happily ever after? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out for yourself.
Getting back to Dumbo himself. You may want to bring tissues with you. At times, it is hard to believe that he is not a real character. Without a doubt, the character of Dumbo was something that Tim Burton had to get right, and he did. Dumbo’s eyes are so expressive and they really are the window to his soul. It is amazing what they can do with CGI nowadays. When Dumbo is happy, you are happy. When he is sad, you are sad. And it is a testament to how endearing the character of Dumbo is that you will only feel genuine emotion for this inanimate object and feel absolutely nothing for not one living human being in this film. I’m telling you, your kids are going to ask you, “Can we get a baby elephant?” and you might actually realistically consider it. Especially if they ask you right after you see this movie. Like so many of Tim Burton’s main characters in his movies, he is a character that does not fit in, or is shunned by society. Think of Edward Scissorhands, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and even Batman. The villains are always those people who perceive the main character as some kind of freak, but in the end, you realize that the main character is the one who has real heart. The scenes with Dumbo and his mother are heartbreaking. Watching Dumbo cry as he is separated from his mother just really tugs at your heartstrings.
If you are a Tim Burton fan, you will love the world he created, especially of the larger-than-life vision of a super circus called Dreamland. Tim Burton definitely has a style that is all his own, and it carries over into each of his films. Sometimes a bit dark, sometimes a bit bizarre, but his fans love him for his vision that comes to life on film. And I really think Burton got a lot right in the beginning of the film. There are some nice call-backs to the original movie that you will spot right away, and it makes you wonder if another director would have chosen to use that in their version of their film. Burton is also reunited with his longtime collaborator who scores his films, Danny Elfman. And although this is not his best work, it is has a very distinct Burton-Elfman feel to it.
The problem with most live-action version of animated classics is they never reach, or exceed, the quality of the original. Usually, animated classics do not have a long run time and the writers feel they have to come up with an additional storyline in order to give it a more cinematic-like feel. (Like they want to justify that all of their hard work and money put into the film is somehow worthy of your almighty dollar.) A perfect example is Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas. The original animated version first debuted on TV and it was just 26 minutes long, and that version is considered a holiday classic. The live-action version of the film that starred Jim Carey was an hour and 44 minutes and most would rather watch the original. The lesson is that no one that makes these movies seems to ever get is that sometimes, less is more. Just because you inflate a story with subplots and extended character developments doesn’t mean you are going to create a better version. And when you look at Dumbo, the original Disney animated film was about an hour long. This newer version of Dumbo is almost double the run time of the original and that extra hour does not help at all.
You would think with a movie called “Dumbo”, that he would be the main character in his own movie. Dumbo unfortunately takes a backseat to the human characters. I would have liked to seen a lot more of Dumbo. Dumbo could have wandered off on his own around the circus making friends with the performers and trying to help the roustabouts. Making everyone accept and fall in love with Dumbo. And I think that would have more of an emotional impact at the end that the performers were willing to risk their careers, not just because the wanted to see him back with his mother, but because they really loved him.
I know they had to get rid of the part with the crows from the original animated film due to controversy, and it wouldn’t look right for Timothy Q. Mouse to talk in this one, but I felt that after a while, the movie started to drag on. This movie could have had at least a half hour cut from it an it would have been a tighter film. It was kind of fun to see Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito reunited on the screen together again. This time, their roles were reversed, where Keaton played the bad guy and DeVito played the good guy. And for me, Keaton really was not that good in this one. Maybe they should have swapped roles. And I know I am going to get hate for this one, but I really don’t think the kids in this movie were the best choices. I’ll just leave it at that.
This one is really a tough one to call. If you are a Dumbo fan, you are going to see things in this movie that you will definitely like. You will get chills the first time you see Dumbo fly in front of an audience. I wouldn’t say that this is the best live action remake. Maybe The Jungle Book is, or maybe Cinderella, but Dumbo is far from the worst, too. And this movie is like the Citizen Kane of Disney live action films if you put it up against Mary Poppins Returns. Dumbo is nowhere as good as the original, but it does have a lot of good moments that sometimes rival the original, but mostly falls short of the original too. The character of Dumbo has so much heart in this movie, it’s just a shame that the same can’t be said of the rest of the movie. If you have kids, definitely take them to see this movie just so they can see Dumbo himself, because he really is magic on the screen. When remaking an animated classic, keep what is there that made that movie a classic to begin with. Don’t add too many new elements, unless they serve to improve the plot, because sometimes, less is more.