Danny DeVito's high energy makes the circus feel real
For what attention he got, Dumbo was great
A mediocre plot with a lacklustre script
The human characters crowded the film
Could have used more pink dancing elephants
Both Tim Burton and Disney have had a rocky start with Disney’s age of live action remakes.
Having collaborated on 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, Disney’s entire live action movement was cast in doubt with this somewhat dreary and uninspired revisit. The cause wasn’t helped with the shaky execution of Maleficent, and it’ll be some time before Jon Favreau’s take on The Jungle Book commanded some faith.
This obviously led to some apprehension when Burton was announced as the helming choice for Dumbo, traditionally an emotional tale of loss and family. Though, in hindsight, just about anything set in a circus seems to be an obvious choice for a Burton flick.
Burton-esque visuals aside, the master of melancholic macabre is somewhat wasted with the film’s inisistence on overhauling the entire context of the premise.
Although considered a classic, Dumbo‘s basis of existence was never routed in the art of story-telling or animated world building. And, in the realism of flesh and blood, this shows.
Conceptualised as a merchandising vehicle, and adapted as an easy way to recoup the financial strain caused by the still underappreciated Fantasia, Dumbo was a quick way to the hearts (and wallets) of its audience.
Obviously the original’s simple and direct plot with a sequence-driven narrative almost solely dedicated to the cartoon animals would have been unsuitable for a direct live action adaptation. For better or worse, this results in less of a remake and more of a revision of the Dumbo tale.
Resulting in a rather Spielberg-esque “boy and his dog” type of narrative, Dumbo’s journey is, expectedly, re-directed to the newly minted human characters. Unsurprisingly, this converts the human cast from storytelling aids to being the subject matter–their journeys overshadowing the titular character’s.
Fortunately, these tropes possess inherent charm and the movie leans heavily on it, often forgoing character development for plot progression. Though running at 112 minutes, the film’s pacing never allows for it to drag with its many characters and their quirks padding out the skeletal narrative.
And while it is always a pleasure to see Michael Keaton reunited with Burton, the true reunion star is Danny DeVito, rounding off the trio’s (quartet, if you include Danny Elfman) first collaboration since Batman Returns. While Keaton is unsurprisingly very much at home as a Burtonian Trump, it is DeVito’s often unappreciated harried enthusiasm that steals the show.
Perhaps Burton may wish to consider DeVito for his next inevitable pseudo-gothic flick which Johnny Depp might currently be rehearsing.
Unfortunately, the live action charm extends only as far from DeVito as the other circus “freaks” go. Colin Farrell, Eva Green, Nick Parker, and Finley Hobbins are largely left in the cold, burdened with the responsibility of being narrative tools tasked to voice Dumbo’s objectives.
Farrell, especially, seems a tad confused by his role as a well-meaning good guy. Perhaps either he or Burton were expecting him to turn into Johnny Depp at some point.
Flaws aside, Dumbo fulfills its purpose as a heart-warming tale, with a timely update in conclusion.
However, its unfortunate positioning between Disney’s own slew of Marvel properties, as well as the possibly very kid-friendly Shazam!, might spell a pre-mature end to its flight.