Dumbo (2019) review
"I can stand the sight of worms, and look at microscopic germs, but Technicolor pachyderms is really too much for me!" These lyrics come from the "Pink Elephants on Parade" song from the animated Dumbo from Disney. It's a sequence clearly meant to stretch the time, but it's still an impressively drawn sequence that adds to the original film's charm. Dumbo may be an elephant version of Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, it's still sweet and provides a nice morale about embracing what makes you different. There's a reason why despite being over seventy, Dumbo still soars with a lot of families.
I guess it should have not come as a surprise that along with a lot of it's other animated classics, Dumbo was also slated to receive a live action adaptation. I'll admit that unlike Maleficent or Beauty and the Beast, I was genuinely interested for two reasons. First, the remake was going to be helmed by Tim Burton, who despite having a career slump, still remains one of the most imaginative visual directors in Hollywood. Second, I felt that due to the originals movie's length, more could be expanded upon. So does the new live action Dumbo soar?
Set in 1918, the Medici Bros. Circus has hit fallen times due to WWI and an flu outbreak that has put ringmaster Max Medici (played by Danny DeVito) in a tough spot, along with his other circus performers who hope that the people will come back for entertainment. One performer returns from the war, a horse performer Holt Farrier (played by Colin Farrell) who has to fill in the role of father and mother to his two children Joe (played by Finley Hobbins) and Milly (played by Nico Parker). Though his horses were sold, he's given a chance to be the new elephant handler to which he accepts.
One of the elephants, Mrs. Jumbo, gives birth to a baby who has unusually large ears. He's dismissed by the circus and audience as a freak, but Milly and Joe still look out for him. It doesn't take long to discover Dumbo's large ears give him the ability to fly, so they manage to put him in an act that makes him a star. A theme park owner, V.A. Vandevere (played by Michael Keaton) offers Max and his troupe to join his circus show, which he accepts. Though Dumbo now has a bigger audience, Milly and Joe can't help but question Vandevere while trying to find Mrs. Jumbo to reunite her son with her.
I have to give Dumbo some credit for trying to recreate the animated movie while making the story different. I can say their clearly trying to do a whole lot, but unlike an ordinary circus that's planned, this is a storytelling mess that can't seem to juggle its act. If you're looking for the lovable flying elephant and his story as a star, it's definitely in there. The problem is that it's script tries to add so much to expand it's material, and yet very little neither adds to the classic or adds up at all.
The script needed a rewrite. The movie starts out with the Dumbo story, which works fine, but has a lot of trouble afterword. The story with Colin Farrell being a performer is brought up…but never follows through. Danny DeVito's story as an aging circus owner is brought up…but never follows through. Michael Keaton's story as a ruthless entrepreneur is brought up…but never explored. Even the kids (who give very wooden performances) who are the closest to Dumbo never really feel like the evolve or grow up.
This is another movie that feels like it's on autopilot. It's telling the bare essentials to a story, but never flies high enough to make an impact.
Where does this rank on the Disney live action remake scale? It's a step above a lot of them, thanks to the movie's visual style, which is the best thing. The circuses and it's world does feel large and you can tell a lot of the sets were built as apposed to heavy CGI as done in Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book. It's one of the better looking of Disney movies, but I wish the story was better suited for it.
I'll give this three packs of pink elephants out of five. While I can't call this the worst or even a bad movie, it is something that I doubt I'll return to. Though I'd rather show the original animated movie, I think families looking for fluff and a flying elephant will like this fine. It is harmless as best. But what Dumbo needed was a real magic feather to come up with a way to soar.