Dumbo is a story of a sweet, baby elephant whose unusually large ears allow him to fly. He gets separated from his mother in their circus life together and has to rely on the help of a kind circus family in order to find his mother. This live-action adaptation of the original Dumbo is directed by Tim Burton and has a certain Steampunk, dark look and feel to it that is unique to his style. The story has been changed quite a bit from the warmth and charm of the original movie.
IS IT ANY GOOD? B-
Baby Dumbo is undeniably adorable and has big, blue eyes that will melt your heart. He’s really the highlight of the movie and the only character that really brings warmth and emotion to the film. Unfortunately, most of the other characters in the story seem rather cold in comparison, although the cast is certainly talented enough. Some of the CGI was not very good, and there was a LOT of CGI. In fact, not even the outdoor scenes were filmed outdoors. Thankfully, Dumbo’s CGI was really great. Unlike the original animated movie, the animals don’t speak in this adaptation and it is very much a story from a human’s perspective. In fact, Timothy the mouse from the original Dumbo movie has only a brief cameo, which is a shame since he provided humor and a delightful perspective, two things missing in this version.
The movie starts off with the circus train, Casey Junior, and provides some initial excitement and momentum, but then everything comes to a screeching halt when Collin Farrell gets off to greet his children after returning from war with a missing arm. The tone shifts to a grey, depressed state and you’re introduced to other characters that seem to find drudgery in working at the circus. The circus should be fun and exciting, but you never quite feel that joy. You don’t get any time to get to know the circus performers and so you feel a bit disconnected to them. The side story with Collin Farrell losing his arm could have easily been used to connect that disability with how Dumbo was perceived by others, but sadly, Tim Burton didn’t take the time to develop it for some reason. So many key plot points felt rushed so that the story of the evil circus developers could be featured. Collin Farrell’s accent comes and goes. In fact, he’s from Ireland and the actors who play his kids also struggled with the American accent. Finley Robbins and Nico Parker are both British. The children were just ok, although a bit stiff, and certainly not the highlight.
There is a lot of action, but the second half of the movie takes a strange turn and completely loses the heart of the real story: Dumbo and his search for his mother. In fact, their screen time together feels very rushed. There is a subtle anti-capitalist message, as well as a strong sermon about how no animals should remain in captivity. It doesn’t quite have the magic we expect from Disney, although there is a scene with some dancing bubbles in the shape of elephants that was pretty cute.
Some of the choices in the film just seemed odd. For example, it’s amazing enough to see an elephant fly, but a tyrannical circus owner insists on having an adult woman ride Dumbo during performances. Her character, played by the talented Eva Green, appears evil herself in the beginning but then becomes the love interest in a relationship that seems very unlikely. Eva Green is perfect for a Tim Burton movie, but she seemed a little too creepy for a children’s movie. She was supposed to be French, but her accent seemed to shift from Russian to British at times. This is her first Disney movie.
Michael Keaton was hilarious but over-the-top. Danny Devito does a great job, although he kind of plays the same character in every movie. This is actually the third time he has played a circus character in a movie. His daughter, Lucy, got to play a coat-check girl in the movie.
Michael Buffer gives a cameo performance as the ringmaster/announcer at the circus and did a great job incorporating some of the famous lines from the original Dumbo movie such as “You’ve seen a dragonfly. You’ve seen a house fly, but you’ve never seen an elephant fly!” Instead of saying his trademark line from boxing and wrestling matches (“Let’s get ready to rumble!”), he says, “Let’s get ready for Dumbo!”
As soon as I saw Nico Parker, I immediately knew she was related to the beautiful Thandie Newton because they look so much alike. As it turns out, Niko Parker is her daughter. This is her film debut! Her mom was filming Solo: A Star Wars Story (Theatrical Version) in a nearby studio at the same time.
The sweeping soundtrack had one particular song that is particularly sweet called Baby Mine (From “Dumbo”) sung by Sharon Rooney. It only took her a week to learn how to play the ukulele to go with the song. A lot of scenes are at night, which will make it difficult to watch the movie on small devices when it comes out on streaming.
IS IT OKAY FOR YOUR KIDS? (PG)
A man loses his arm in the war.
A little girl is interested in science and wants to be known for her brain. She talks about researching and testing things to learn.
“Light” profanity a couple of times, both times by Collin Farrell. In fact, they kept a swear jar on set and the majority of the money that was put into the jar when someone used profanity was put there by Collin Farrell. The money collected by the end of filming was donated to charity.
Some violence, destruction, and people in peril.
Baby Dumbo actually gets drunk in the original movie when a clown congratulates him with a bottle of champagne, but this time, Danny DeVito’s character says that babies should NOT have booze, so there is no drunken “Pink Elephants on Parade” musical number. That was a weird scene in the original movie, right
A man dies in a violent way.
In the original Dumbo movie, a stork delivers baby Dumbo to Mrs. Jumbo, but in this one, a stork sits nearby while Mrs. Jumbo actually gives birth (but you don’t see it happen.)
ANY WORTHWHILE MESSAGES?
The original animated movie really drove home the message that we shouldn’t judge others, but it wasn’t as clear in this adaptation. There is a line by Michael Keaton’s character that seemed to underline the stronger theme: “Some men cheat the rules. Others change them.” It’s the idea that allowed the “good guys” in the movie to think it was totally fine to break a legal contract and steal property (Dumbo) that technically belonged to someone else. Yes, it was great that they were looking out for Dumbo’s best interest, but does it teach our kids that they can break the rules and steal whenever they decide it’s best? Careful, Disney.
Danny DeVito’s character declares, “Miracles happen. Believe me, they do.” Certainly, an elephant that can fly is a miracle, but it took his character a surprisingly long time to realize it as such. We tend to be that way too. We often fail to see the many miracles around us each day. We’re so used to seeing incredible technological advances that we forget what a miracle it is to see a tulip emerge from the snow-covered ground in the spring or that the sun rises each morning. The moral of the story? Take time to love everyone for who they are and find joy in the simple things.