Dumbo is directed by Tim Burton and is a re-boot that re-imagines the original story adapted by Disney in 1941. Dumbo, a young elephant whose oversized ears enable him to fly, helps to save a struggling circus after his mother was taken from him.
The circus is run by Max Medici, played by Danny DeVito. This circus is home to a bevy of circus acts and performers, including Colin Farrell’s character, a professional horse-rider and returned war amputee, and his two distant children, who have also just lost their mother.
When the circus plans a new venture with renowned businessman V.A. Vandervere, played by Michael Keaton, Dumbo and his friends discover dark secrets beneath its shiny veneer in their search to find Dumbo’s mom and reunite them.
There has been a really big push from Disney in revamping their original stories for the past few years from Cinderella and Maleficent to their more successful attempts like The Jungle Book and Beauty & The Beast. Only The Jungle Book adaptation in my opinion actually improved on the original; the rest have only felt like harmless but needless remakes that were probably meant to cash in on the properties’ notoriety alone.
While there are some interesting ideas introduced in the film, Dumbo wasn’t able to sustain or properly build on the original to make this reboot a worthwhile watch.
First, the titular character Dumbo. He’s adorable. The special effects were great on him and when he flies it really is something to see. The film visually pays tribute to the original in many parts and they did a good job showing Dumbo’s cuteness in his big ears, however, it was a little jarring hearing the story hinge on him being considered “ugly.”
The films overall message of inclusiveness, bringing in the outcast, and loving everyone are, of course, very powerful messages, and I think they hit to the heart of what the original Dumbo was about. I liked when Tim Burton was able to give a little more of his flare, but he really feels more confined in this film, and I would have like to have seen more “Burton-esque” moments.
In fairness, I am not this movie’s target demographic. I never watched the original and was mostly interested in this because of the choice to have Burton helm it and re-team with Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito. Both Keaton and Devito are great with their roles, with DeVito, to me, being my MVP of the film. I love this man more than some family members, so if you put DeVito in anything, I’m going to watch it and love him in it.
There are some key differences in the story, mainly the swap out of Timothy Q. Mouse for Colin Farrell’s two children, who are played by Nico Parker & Finley Hobbins. It’s tough to be critical of child actors because I don’t necessarily think that it’s their fault — direction and the script and what you’re given to work with play a big part in the overall performance, too. However, the relationship between the two kids and Dumbo seemed very hollow. It was tough to find anything to really connect with when it comes to Farrell’s family, and you can tell the screenwriter had a tough time filling a full 2-hour movie runtime out of a 1-hour film.
Rather than focusing on one side story to flesh out along with Dumbo’s character, there are 2-3 side stories that the film spends a large chunk of time with, but they don’t really move any of the plot or characters’ relationships forward. Dumbo’s story is somewhat sidelined as well. Where Timothy Q. Mouse didn’t really have a story to expand on in the original, this version spends too much time away from Dumbo’s perspective, and I wish they had focused more on him.
Overall, this is a sweet movie, and Burton gives a reserved direction with “Big Fish” notes and Disney theme park easter eggs galore. There is a very adorable Dumbo for any kids to love and they’ll love watching him for sure. In the end, though, Dumbo feels like a missed opportunity for Burton to creatively go all out and instead is a harmless, yet skippable, film for the theaters.