Dumbo (2019) Review

Of all the Disney’s live-action remakes of animated classics including Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin (May 23) and Jon Favreau’s The Lion King (July 18) that released this year, I’m actually more interested to see what Tim Burton can do with Dumbo. Besides, a story like Dumbo which deals with a social outcast is definitely right up to Burton’s alley.

A beloved Walt Disney animated classic which released back in 1941, the animated version of Dumbo only ran a scant 64 minutes. And given the fact this is a live-action feature, it comes to no surprise that Tim Burton and screenwriter Ehren Kruger felt obligated to stretch the original material into a standard two-hour length. The result? Three words: a massive disappointment. Sure, Tim Burton’s recent works were largely inconsistent these days (his 2010’s Alice in Wonderland and 2012’s Dark Shadows quickly came to mind) but this is unbelievably a mess of epic proportion. Or more appropriately, it is equivalent of the work of a wannabe director pretending to be the next Tim Burton the kooky auteur.

In this live-action version of Dumbo, Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) has just returned home after World War I, in which he lost one of his arms. He also learns that his wife has died from influenza and a lot of things have changed since he left to serve the army.

Holt, who was once a one-half of circus horse-rider duo alongside his wife, is looking to resume his role but his ringmaster Max Medici (Danny DeVito) wants him to take care of his recently-purchased elephant nicknamed Mrs Jumbo. The elephant, who also happens to be heavily pregnant, ends up giving birth to a baby elephant with a pair of unusually giant ears. While everyone in the circus is bewildered with the baby elephant, Holt’s two kids Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) felt otherwise.

Soon, they learn the baby elephant has a unique ability to fly — a talent that soon becomes the circus’ main addition and even subsequently attracts the attention of V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), a money-minded entrepreneur looking to exploit the baby elephant — nicknamed Dumbo — in every exploitative way possible.

The biggest problem about Dumbo is how painfully tedious and overlong the story ends up to be, even with all the extra paddings here and there. The movie never really finds its proper footing from the opening moment and even by the time the third act arrives, it only flatlines with a shockingly limp ending. Even with the inclusion of a cautionary tale related to corporate greed and capitalism in the storyline, Kruger’s overall script is all surface-level storytelling. Maybe he wants to keep it as kid-friendly as possible but does it have to be this dull? 

Despite enlisting the likes of Colin Farrell and Eva Green, they are nothing more than one-dimensional bland characters straight out from the assembly line. The same also goes to the otherwise much-anticipated Batman Returns reunion between Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito. It was actually nice seeing them sharing the same screen again but their performances are disappointingly subpar, with Keaton basically hams it up with his evil magnate character while DeVito doesn’t get to do much other than playing his same old stereotypical self. The children fare even worse, with both newcomers Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins looking lost most of the times.

On the technical front, Tim Burton’s otherwise pedestrian direction does muster some worthwhile moments, namely the hallucinogenic “pink elephant” sequence in the form of giant soap bubbles shaped like flying elephants and a scene where Dumbo takes flight for the first time ever. Speaking of Dumbo, the baby elephant is vividly realised with lifelike CGI re-creation. Too bad most of the CG-heavy environment looks fake, where they don’t really mesh well with the live-action sets and characters.

Given the calibre of the cast and crew involved in this live-action remake, Dumbo could have been potentially great. But what we get here is a giant stampede of a movie that should have gone back to the drawing board. Let’s hope Disney’s next two live-action remake offerings this summer, Aladdin and The Lion King able to live up to their expectations.

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