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Film Review

Dumbo (2019)

Directed by Tim Burton
From: Disney
Released: 03.29.19
Review by Julian Lytle | March 28, 2019 at 4:00 PM
Actually: 6.5

Basically: Way fewer talking animals, way more people.

Marking the new wave of the Disney-always-in-theaters era, Dumbo is our first classic remake of the year. Some of you may not have even known about the Dumbo remake between Aladdin or Lion King, along with the ever-present Marvel showings, overshadowing it. So what’s the selling point for this movie? Well, it’s Tim Burton, the director who made this current live-action remake craze profitable for The Mouse with the first Alice in Wonderland (let us forget the sequel).

Photo by Jay Maidment - © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In Dumbo (2019) there are no talking animals, no musical numbers, and a lot more human characters. The film begins with Holt (Colin Farrell), a WWI vet returning home after having lost his arm and his wife. Before the war Holt was a famous stunt horse rider but the Medici Bros circus has now fallen on hard times, so he takes on the role of the elephants’ caretaker. Along with his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), Holt finds out from the circus owner Max (Danny DeVito) that their newest elephant Jumbo is pregnant. Soon the baby is born and everyone sees the little elephant’s peculiarly large ears. If you’ve ever seen the original you’ll know what Dumbo’s ears allow him to do.

As I alluded to earlier, the main difference between the original Dumbo and the new one is the human characters. A lot of the story and arcs are about Holt and his family framed by how Dumbo is treated. Dumbo is essentially just an elephant—a special one but still an animal. It’s much like those movies about how a special pet brings a broken family together through the love of the animal. While that’s a fine movie plot, it doesn’t sit right with me for Dumbo. In the 1941 film, Dumbo didn’t talk but still had agency. He was more like a child who had to overcome bullying with the help of his mentor Timothy Q. Mouse. Seeing everything through the animals’ eyes was a more interesting perspective and made you really root for Dumbo. In Dumbo (2019) you end up caring more about Holt, Milly, and Joe, and later on Eva Green’s Colette Marchant, as they deal with greedy promoters and intolerant people.

Photo by Jay Maidment - © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

You can see Burton’s touch in the visuals, especially the sets and use of color to shape mood and frame characters and scenes. He crafts frames that feel like paintings while really taking care to capture the actors’ faces to get across their emotions and intentions. The cast gives good performances overall, with a few great ones like DeVito and Michael Keaton as V. A. Vandevere who does all his best eating-up-the-scenery-bad-guy acting. (It’s also cool to see Batman and Penguin back on screen together again.) Eva Green, now a Burton regular, also does a stellar job—she has you thinking Colette is one way and then flips it on you. Even if you expect it it’s done well.

So, with all the parts I said are good, can I say the film is good? Dumbo (2019) might be made well but it feels off and a tad soulless. While there is great craftsmanship on display and it tries to make you feel something warm, the movie still feels cold. I wish that wasn’t the case.

In the End: Dumbo is a lot of work by a lot of talented people but sadly the remake couldn’t recapture the magic of the original.

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