Dumbo Review

The first of 4 new live-action remakes in 2019, Disney’s Dumbo is mostly a delight to watch. I was very skeptical of this film when it was first announced, as I am a big fan of the original 1941 animated film, and I have not been impressed by Tim Burton’s latest offerings. While the film definitely has some spotty moments and a few messy performances, it is ultimately saved by its directors unique vision.

Dumbo opens in Sarasota Florida in 1919 with a traveling circus that is struggling. Former circus star Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns from the war to with one less arm to less than ideal conditions: his children have recently lost their mother and the circus has sold the horses that were necessary to his act.

Circus owner Max Medici (Danny Devito) soon gets ahold of a new baby elephant but is quickly disappointed to learn that the elephant is…. adorable. Adorable, but also possessing large oversized ears. Holt’s children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finely Hobbins) quickly discover that the baby elephant is able to fly with the help of a feather.

The news of flying baby Dumbo catches the eye of V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), a rich entertainer who wants Dumbo for his mega theme park, Dreamland. The circus crew quickly learn that Vandevere and Dreamland are not what they are cracked up to be and have to make a daring escape.

Vandevere and Dreamland are such obvious stand-ins for Disney and Disneyland, that I really wonder how happy Disney was with the idea of evil corporate greed that they represent in the film. The timing is especially ironic given the current acquisition of Fox’s entertainment assets.

The story moves at a brisk pace and unfortunately, we don’t get to see any of the characters have any growth. The human characters are mostly there to serve the story of Dumbo. They have basic personalities and their paths follow a predictable trajectory.

For the most part, the performances are fine. The one exception is Michael Keaton’s Vandevere. He overplays the eccentric villain too much and causes a few scenes to become pretty cringe-worthy. Danny Davito’s Max and Eva Green’s Colette Marchant are the standouts. Alan Arkin has only a small role but is a scene stealer. 

Visually, the movie really shines. This is Burton’s most visually appealing film in quite some time and really looks like a Tim Burton film. The circus is a perfect fit for his styling and it really shines through. The flying scenes with Dumbo are also very well done. A particular scene with animated bubbles and a happy, bobbing Dumbo watching along was a joy to watch.

Dumbo is dark and features a few truly sad moments, even more so than the original film. While the film doesn’t offer anything truly new story-wise, it is still recommended viewing for it’s inspired visuals alone.

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