Dumbo is Disney’s newest attempt to remake one of their beloved animated properties into a live-action film. Dumbo tells the story of a baby elephant who is ridiculed for his big ears but soon discovers that he has the gift of flight. This is Tim Burton’s second Disney live-action remake after 2010’s Alice in Wonderland.
The story is very different from the original, and yet, it still feels completely unoriginal. It is hard to expand a sixty-four minute movie into almost two hours, and the film doesn’t succeed in so doing. Every beat in the movie can be predicted from the beginning. Simply put, it’s a pretty average movie for kids. However, the biggest issue isn’t necessarily the predictability — that can be mostly forgiven because this film is not aimed at audiences who will care about that. Instead, the issue is that the movie is extremely average in almost every way.
One of the more frustrating aspects of the film is that it tries to say something about greed and consumerism, but it lacks the bite and sincerity that it needs to be effective as a parable. You can tell that the filmmakers wanted to say something, and it almost feels like it has been censored in a way. After all, the company that owns the world is never going to allow one of their movies to have a message that portrays themselves in a negative light.
The movie does develop the lead human characters somewhat well. We feel intense sympathy for brother and sister Milly and Joe Farrier. Their backstory is a bit contrived and generic (tough love father, dead mother), but it is effective at making us care about them and their story. Their relationship with Dumbo also develops them further. On the other hand, the supporting characters aren’t particularly interesting at all.
That being said, the film doesn’t succeed at pulling at the heartstrings in the way it seems to intend. The emotional moments all feel forced and ineffective. Part of the reason why the movie isn’t emotional enough is that the story is so predictable, so there aren’t any stakes established. However, the film does seem to resonate with its younger target audience, so that is something to keep in mind.
The excellent ensemble assembled for this movie was actually quite disappointing. Pretty much everyone was over-the-top. Colin Farrell’s performance is largely emotionless and his Southern accent is absolutely ridiculous. Danny Devito is in a role similar to what he usually does, and he is very over-the-top with it. Michael Keaton is silly and hammy as the antagonist. Eva Green and Alan Arkin may as well not have been in the film because their roles and performances were so insignificant.
The area in which the movie succeeds most is in its execution, but it is still rather bland when compared to some of Disney’s other films. The movie looks like a Tim Burton film, but doesn’t feel like one. It has the dark and cool color scheme characteristic of Burton’s movies, but not the tone necessary to make it fit. The score also doesn’t fit the tone of the film very well. However, the CGI for Dumbo is definitely impressive and very cute. Disney will likely make a great deal of profit on merchandise of the new form of the character.
Overall, Dumbo was average in almost every way. It is one of the weaker live-action Disney remakes and one of the most disappointing Burton movies to date.
Dumbo opens in theaters March 29.