Dumbo Review: Instead flying above the clouds, Dumbo is trips over its own ears
While I haven’t been on-board for Disney’s decision to remake some of their beloved animated classics, Dumbo was the one I had genuine expectations to be great. It’s been a long time since the triumphant and poignant tale of an elephant with big ears soared into the minds of audiences and I actually see this remake as a great way to pay homage one of Disney’s first films. Especially with the oddly creepy imagination of Tim Burton behind it and a cast filled with actors I quite enjoy.
Unfortunately, I must admit that Dumbo couldn’t even come close to soaring above the surface and I am left with a sense of confusion to how the film ended up being the drab and unemotional film that it is.
Upon leaving the film, I only feel sadness and not because of any endearing or touching moments in the film. Rather, my sadness stems from how the film doesn’t really get what makes Dumbo’s story special and makes his story similar to a monster movie. Most of the characters in the film, who are supposed to like and support him, come off like they are afraid of him and even some of the camera work makes him have a darker presence. There’s even a scene where Eva Green’s Colette is working with Dumbo on a stunt and the camera work makes it seem like he’s a flying monster that’s about to attack her. Even if this is to build some kind of theme about the characters accepting him for being more than just an oddity, it never works because of the film’s inability to pick a distinct theme or message.
Dumbo’s usual theme of getting people to look past outer exterior and self-worth are only touched upon slightly and there are so many lackluster themes that never fully develop. There’re honestly some opportunities the film completely misses out on to bring light to certain subjects and create more discussion points to flesh out its human characters. The film tries to throw in some thought about animal rights that’s completely forced and unearned. The film slightly hints at these ideas in certain parts, but because characters never really feel conflicted with the idea or question how they treat animals. There’s no build up for these ideas these ideas to mean anything and the film just forces a specific view.
There’re even moments that could’ve touched on the idea of science and how it is seen in the world of circuses. Nico Parker’s Milly constantly acknowledges her love of science, which would make you believe that she thinks more logically and that she wouldn’t believe much in Dumbo being able to fly leading to a conflict of scientific thought versus magical belief. Instead Milly’s character has no complexity to her, and the film doesn’t even want to touch on why her belief in science is so special. There’s not even an idea of conflict between the practicality of circus life and scientific thought, leaving Milly to be just one of the many characters that Dumbo completely wastes.
It’s incredibly rare to say, but it’s almost mind-boggling to see a CGI elephant literally be more emotional and act better than the likes of Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Colin Ferrell, and Eva Green. Dumbo, himself, is a much stronger character than everyone else in the film as he was the only one I could invest myself in. Even when the film captures Dumbo’s more innocent nature, it’s only a small part of the film and there’s so much focus on the human characters that have very little substance given to them. Everyone else feels like they are there to move the plot along and their relationships and acting is super bland.
Nothing felt blander to me, though, than Burton’s, supposed, vision that feels completely generic and underutilized. For a film that highly emphasized that it comes from the “imagination of Tim Burton,” this has to be one of the most normal dreams he has ever put to film. That oddness, that sense of mystery, and that creepy imagery only exists in the smallest, most unimpactful instances. Honestly, this is a rough showing for Burton and it never even feels like a film that Burton had any input on.
The worst part, though, must be how Dumbo pays homage to the 1941 classic in the most uninspiring and almost disrespectful ways possible. The film has some clever homages and ideas that tie back to the original, but completely forgets what made the original so special. Dumbo’s relationship with his mother is incredibly downplayed and barely scratches at the surface of their relationship due to the original film’s story being compacted into the first 30 minutes. The film doesn’t even utilize the moment that “Baby Mine” plays to create a touching moment that’s built up throughout the film. This leaves it to be not personal in the slightest and would actually have zero emotional weight to it if the original didn’t do this so well. It’s almost like Burton didn’t even want to include it, but was forced to anyway.
Honestly, there could’ve been more parallels between the struggles of Farrell’s Holt and his family and Dumbo, but the never tries to connect the two’s problems. “Baby Mine” would have been a perfect moment to showcase the struggles between the two and given the human characters a character arc that never comes.
It’s unfortunate to say that Dumbo is not only worst Disney remake, so far, as it captures none of the innocent charm or magic of the original, but is just a bad remake in general. There’s no mystique or sense of wonder that the film thinks it has and instead there is just bland and uninspiring story beats that disrespects a true classic.