Jacob Richardson | 28/03/2019
A fantastically rendered, relatively straight re-telling of the original animated tale. Unambitious narratively, but still a heartwarming time for viewers young and old.
Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns from the war to the Medici Brother’s Circus, run by the fabulous Max Medici (Danny DeVito). His wife has passed away while he has been on the continent fighting, and he has lost an arm, but he still has his two children in Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). He is given the task to train the elephants, and he, Milly and Joe get the pleasure of welcoming a baby elephant into the world. Their initial horror at the extended ears of this baby elephant turns to amazement when they realise that Dumbo can fly with them; a trait that puts all of them in the firing line of conniving businessmen who want to exploit the animals talent.
The Disney classic is reinvigorated in this new incarnation, and most certainly Tim Burton goes wild with the visuals and colours of the piece. This Dumbo is an explosion of steampunk Disney fare, all anchored in some incredible technical work in the animation of Dumbo himself! The CGI creation is astounding, and incredibly realistic.
There is also a fair amount of whimsy and spectacle on offer here. Burton creates something both historically reminiscent of ages gone by and futuristic at the same time with his take on the world. Circus tents feel like they could take off as blimps at any time, and the fantastical New York circus even has a Jurassic Park-style collection of animals on show.
Alas, the visuals can’t mask the stuttering, faltering nature of the quality of the film. Dumbo is a movie constantly lurching between edge of your seat intrigue and snooze-fest boredom. It is also a movie in which none of the characters actually creating a lasting impression.
Farrel, Green, Keaton, DeVito; they all do a standup job, but there just isn’t enough character development in the script to justify interest in their fates. Burton also goes out of his way to make sure that none of the human characters are vaguely conflicted whatsoever - they are cookie cutter outlines of story stereotypes. This aids clarity, but also makes the film utterly predictable. There are some intriguing potential sub-plots, but they are always only tangentially referred to before they are scuttled, making way for the main arc of Dumbo himself.
The other issue is the predictability. The movie is definitionally a standard story structure, and that is very much fine, but also makes it incredibly boring and predictable at times. One wishes that Burton had of played less with the visuals and more with the story itself to generate interest and engagement. Sometimes, spectacle isn’t enough to mask a lack of substance.
Dumbo is a very pretty and, for non-discerning viewers like children, enjoyable film. But it is a film that takes no risks, and dulls every plot thread, emotional beat and memory of the original in its pursuit of normality, and for many that will be a disappointment.