For my review of the original animated film, click the following link: DUMBO (1941)
And live-action Disney remakes just keep on coming. I’m not gonna lie, having revisited the original film, I didn’t know how a remake would make sense. So much of the original was the relationship between Timothy and Dumbo and the two of them trying to find a way to break out his mom from being locked up. With that said, the movie presented based on the couple of trailers that I’ve seen, this looks to try something different. Dumbo’s iconic flying ears don’t appear until the end of the original, but this looks like it’s going to be a regular thing with him.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Nico Parker (feature film debut; congrats, miss), Finley Hobbins (feature film debut; congrats, young man), Colin Farrell (WIDOWS , THE BEGUILED , FANTASTIC BEASTS , and the upcoming BUSH ), Michael Keaton (AMERICAN ASSASSIN , SPOTLIGHT , and TOY STORY 3 ), and Eva Green (MISS PEREGRINE  and CASINO ROYALE ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Tim Burton, known for MISS PEREGRINE and CORPSE BRIDE (2005). Penning the screenplay is Ehren Kruger, known for GHOST/SHELL (2017). Composing the score is Danny Elfman, known for GRINCH (2018), CIRCLE (2017), GIRL/TRAIN (2016), AVENGERS: ULTRON (2015), MIB (1997), 2 (2002), and 3 (2012), TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009), HELLBOY II (2008), KINGDOM (2007), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996), and upcoming films MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL (2019) and THE VOYAGE OF DOCTOR DOLITTLE (2020). The cinematographer is Ben Davis, known for CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019), THREE BILLBOARDS (2017), DOCTOR STRANGE (2016), GUARDIANS (2014), and the upcoming KINGSMAN: THE GREAT GAME (2020). Finally, the editor is Chris Lebenzon, known for GEOSTORM (2017), MISS PEREGRINE, WITCH HUNTER (2015), MALEFICENT (2014), and TOP GUN (1986).
Overall, I’m hoping for something better than what Burton’s put out in recent years. I’m not expecting too much, but I’d like something different from the original.
This is my honest opinion of: DUMBO
Set in 1919. The Medici Bros. circus is a popular troupe that travels all over America with their different acts, featuring strong men, mermaids, and other staged oddities. One day, war veteran, now amputee with one arm, Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns to his children, eldest daughter Milly (Nico Parker) and youngest son Joe (Finley Hobbins), who have also lost their mother. Amidst trying to reintegrate himself back into the circus, Holt is told he can only have one job: animal tamer, and his work is cut out for him, as the resident elephant Jumbo is about to have a baby. Upon its discovery, Jumbo’s baby boy has abnormally large ears. What starts off as believing that the ears will ruin the circus eventually turns into their star attraction when it’s discovered that Dumbo can fly, so long as he inhales a feather.
Oooh God it sucks. Oh God, it sucks big time. Like… BIG time.
First glaring issue, the movie isn’t even really about Dumbo! You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not. Red flag number one was how long it took for Dumbo to actually appear in the film. TWENTY MINUTES!!! By comparison, the 1941 version took TEN minutes. Okay, ten minutes and one or two seconds, but that’s still half the time it takes for the titular character to actually show up. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the movie was setting up atmosphere and setting, similar to what the original film did, by blaring the Casey Jr. song and showing off the animation for the circus animals. But here, we’re introduced to actual characters. Danny DeVito as Max, the leader of the circus, and the Farrier family. Not that I’m any kind of purist when it comes to the original film, but I am a stickler for making the movie about the main character. This movie is about this family and the circus business. Dumbo is only there for the namesake. None of these elements are in the original. It was just a circus with no inner political and financial machinations, outside of the bullying aspect.
Let’s talk about those characters… that aren’t Dumbo. I guess this movie would be fine-ish if the characters we were forced to follow were well-written, but… nope! Not a single one of them is interesting. The family as a whole suffers from the age-old Disney cliché of a dead mother. Holt is a jerk. At first, you think there’s going to be some substance because he’s revealed to have lost his arm in combat (why is there a war in a Disney movie about a flying baby elephant?), but he quickly spirals downward when he seems to not care about his wife’s death and more interested in resurrecting his old act for the circus. I swear he spends more time complaining about that than mourning the mother of his children. By the way, he can’t talk to his kids because… I don’t know. It’s not exactly revealed how long he was gone for and it’s not like he makes any real effort in trying to talk to them, so what am I supposed to take away from all of this? It comes across more like he doesn’t care about them, rather than just being awkward, which is criminal because if IN BRUGES has taught us anything, Farrell can play awkward like a champ.
Speaking of children, let’s talk about them too. Hobbins… is actually fine. Nothing much to say about him. Parker, on the other hand, and I really hate to pick on a kid, so I’ll chock this up to bad directing on Burton’s part, but JEEZ is she an awful actress. Okay, to be fair, she’s not the worst child actor, but she gives off ZERO emotions. In her opening scene, she and her brother are sprinting to the train station to meet with their father with smiles on their faces. But when he actually shows up… she’s got nothing. She doesn’t break down crying, the smile is gone, it’s a barren wasteland of emotions. In fact, her stare is so blank that when she looks at Holt’s missing arm, it almost looks like she’s got something against it. Like, “Oh, you have a missing arm, freak? You belong here in the circus.” So already I hated her. Even if I didn’t want to judge these first few minutes with her, the rest of her character doesn’t hold much redemption value. Literally, one of her first lines is, “I don’t want to be a star. I want to be remembered for my mind.” Wow… what a brilliant character. You know, give NUTCRACKER FOUR REALMS some credit, the main character didn’t need to announce that she was smart, she just demonstrated it. We barely even see what makes her smart, just that she hopes to do great things. But fine, a girl wants to be smart. Clunky way of saying it, but that wouldn’t be so bad if she had some passion behind what she was saying, which she doesn’t. Anything that happens, she seems only mildly impressed, or not impressed at all. It’s really distracting.
Now let’s talk about Dumbo’s birth. And yes, we’re going to talk about this. In the animated movie, babies are a result of stork delivery. Alright, fair enough. What does this movie do? At first, it’s not sugarcoated. Jumbo is pregnant, as Max says plain as day that, “She’s going to have a baby any day now.” But then a scene or two later, we see a flock of storks. Um… okay, this is confusing. Are the storks supposed to be symbolic of Jumbo giving birth? Why bother with symbolism? This is a fantasy world with a flying baby elephant. Just make it about storks delivering babies and roll with it. Or if you want to hold true to actual pregnancy, then leave out the storks altogether. By the time Dumbo comes around, we’ll have figured out that he was born without the obvious brain-dead symbolism.
Why are Dumbo’s ears considered a bad thing? To animated elephants, I would understand because they’re not natural to a baby’s body. But to this particular circus, this makes no sense. Even Max exclaims that they have staged freak-shows featuring strong men, bearded ladies, “real” mermaids, the whole enchilada. So why would an actual freak be a downgrade? Also, shouldn’t his ears be bigger? In the animated one, his ears were bigger than a grown adult elephant’s. In this one, they’re about the same size. I don’t know, I feel like this movie could have done better in this regard.
I was so ready to give this movie some credit at one point too, when it came to how the baby elephant got to be named “Dumbo.” In this version, he’s rolled in to the circus ring in an oversized baby stroller with letters above him saying, “Dear baby Jumbo Jr.” or something to that effect, but then something happens, the “Jr.” the J in “Jumbo,” and “baby” letters fall off, the D in “Dear” falls but gets caught where the J in “Jumbo” was, spelling “Dumbo.” A bit far-fetched, but it makes more sense than the original’s embrace of the insult name the mean elephants gave him. However, even this is ruined when the mother is taken away and Joe says that it’s best to keep the mistaken name because if he keeps his name, “Jumbo Jr.” he might miss his mother too much. Bull freakin’ @#$%, kid!
Let’s tackle the big one… the one scene that should have been tailor-made for Tim Burton. Pink Elephants. Yet again, it’s botched. Big time. Why? Let’s start with the imagery. It’s boring. This is primarily because all it focuses on is the marching bipedal elephants that were in the original. But not the other trippy images that were on display. Second, the entire scene is shot and edited so horribly that it’s a chore to even make out what is being shown on screen. Some of the action is even in the corner, so you have even less to look at. So not only is this about as lazy as you can get with this scene, which is supposed to be an exercise in imagination and creativity animation magic, this should have been the standout. Even in the context of the movie, it makes even less sense than in the original. In the original, Dumbo and Timothy were seeing pink elephants because they were drunk. In this… the pink elephants are bubbles. This in of itself isn’t a problem, but consider for a second that these bubbles are moving as if they have a mind of their own. Full on movement as if they were performers themselves. With this going on, how is a flying baby elephant a game-changer for Vandevere (Michael Keaton)?
Here’s a list of some smaller issues:
- The Casey Jr. train is something straight out of a horror movie. Seriously, it’s creepy as sin.
- Does anyone know what accen Keaton was supposed to sport? It was like… southern drawl meets… Russian, or some crap. I couldn’t tell! Could you?!
- Poop jokes! Because… this movie need to take a page out of PHANTOM MENACE and… well, most bad comedies.
I can go on and on, believe me, but I haven’t the energy. There’s only two “redeeming” qualities that this film has. One, Keaton has fleeting moments of fun, and two, Eva Green’s cleavage. These are not good reasons, and therefore, will not be counted toward the film. I hated this movie. It’s not fun, it’s not pleasant to look at, the acting is underwhelming, and there’s zero creativity and emotions. This barely even feels like a Disney movie, it’s so unpleasant. I’ve got nothing, guys. This movie’s got even less. I wouldn’t even recommend it for kids, as half the movie is about the human adults, and not about Dumbo. Just make them watch the animated original again. There’s a whole lot more to appreciate on just about every level.
My honest rating for DUMBO: 1/5
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