Dumbo Review: A Tame,but Joyous, Flight
Updated: Sep 24
When Disney is not releasing a new animated feature or the next installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the studio is recreating classic their films. For sometime now Disney has taken some of their most cherished animated films and brought into the realm of live action with films such as Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast becoming anticipated blockbusters yet again. 2019 sees the biggest haul of live action adaptations as five films are set to be released this year, and it all begins with none other than Dumbo. One of Disney’s first animated feature gets a new spin to it with Tim Burton, who also directed Alice in Wonderland, takes the helm on this adaptation. Judging from the trailer it look as though this new film would go into a different direction from its 1941 counterpart but that hardly swayed me from not giving this film a chance. After seeing this movie for myself I can say this new take is not the most magical from either Disney or Tim Burton, but that was not to say that Dumbo was not a joyous flight.
The story of Dumbo tells the tale of Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) and his kids Milly and Joe (Nico Parker and Finely Hobbins) who are tasked to take care of the young elephant Dumbo whose massive ears lead him to become a top circus act. The plot to this adaptation was rather simple and that worked both for and against the movie. On one hand the plot’s simplicity was alright as its concept was easy enough to get into; plus this was hardly a disservice to its source as the original was just as simplistic in its storytelling. However when it came to the details, the plot was sorely lacking. The story of Farriers was not a bad addition to the movie but it felt undefined as the issues of Holt and Milly felt more like a footnote then an important detail to the plot. This had to do with issue in the narrative as the plot’s progression felt rushed. The story’s pacing was quick which led to moments such as Dumbo training with trapeze artist Collette (Eva Green) to feel abrupt. When it came to the callbacks from the original the moments were handled well. From Dumbo’s flight to the Pink Elephants on Parade these moments were embedded well into story while capturing the aspects from the original.
When it came to the characters the film’s ensemble suffered from similar issues as the story did. The characters in of themselves were fine but they did lack in development. Take the Farriers for example. The family had a sense of character to them, but they had little to no progression and it felt like their dilemmas had little gravitas to the movie. The same could be said about other characters like Collette and the villainous tycoon V.A Vandervere (Michael Keaton)-who was evil for evil’s sake. Yet the characters had some merit to them which was thanks to the actors’ performances. Veterans like Colin Farrell, Eva Green, Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito showed their tenure as their performances were able to give a semblance of character to their roles. This was particularly notable from Michael Keaton as he made the villain stand out in every scene that he was in. When it came to the title character Dumbo was his enjoyable to say the least. There was little difference between Dumbo and his animated self but in a case such as this if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Seeing that this is a Disney movie one would expect Dumbo to have a sense of movie magic to it, and it did for the most part. The film sense of spectacle was seen in both its visuals as well as its cinematography. The visuals for Dumbo were nothing special but they did their job well enough. As for the cinematography the work from Ben Davis was colorful and had a look similar to many of Burton’s past films. Seeing that is a Tim Burton film you can be sure that composer Danny Elfman would be behind the music of this adaptation, and he was. Elfman’s score was nothing noteworthy but there was a sense of magic to it which did work for this Disney film.
Dumbo is not the most enchanting of Disney features but that is not to say this movie was a terrible experience. Despite its lackluster story and characters the movie made up for it with its simple nature and solid performances. Along with its a decent effects and music the movie featured a presentation that was effective but nothing that truly took flight. So while Dumbo is not Disney’s best work, nor even the finest film from Tim Burton, this live action adaptation was fairly harmless and through it simplicity was able to entertain this Film Adventurer to some extent.