Movie Review Monday: Dumbo (2019)
Disney’s latest live-action adaptation arrived in theaters over the weekend with a new look at the classic story of Dumbo. This adaptation was written by Ehren Kruger and directed by Tim Burton. Based loosely on the 1941 animated classic, this film focuses not just on the baby elephant that can fly but also a failing traveling circus and those who work in it. The human cast sees Colin Farrell star as former circus performer Holt Farrier and Danny DeVito as ringmaster Max Medici. The cast is also comprised of Michael Keaton as V.A. Vandevere, Eva Green as Colette, Nico Parker as Milly Farrier, Finley Hobbins as Joe Farrier, and Alan Arkin as J. Griffin Remington. While the film is not posting as strong of an opening at the box office as initially expected, it still managed to debut with over $100 million worldwide in its opening weekend.
The film begins in 1919 with the Medici Bros. Circus traveling across the country with its performers. They begin in Sarasota, Florida and slowly make their way across the country into Missouri. Once they arrive in Joplin, famed equestrian act, Holt Farrier, returns from the war. He has lost an arm, and while his children welcome him, Farrier is disappointed to find the circus struggling. Ringmaster Max Medici has had to sell his horses, and he has invested what money he has into a pregnant elephant, Mrs. Jumbo. Holt’s only option for a job is to care for the elephants, which he reluctantly takes. Whenever the elephant calf is born with oversized ears, Medici is disappointed and tries to hide it. However, everything changes whenever it is discovered that this baby elephant can use his ears to fly.
So, the first thing that has to be said is that this blue-eyed, computer generated Dumbo is freaking adorable. Honestly, the movie might be receiving mixed reviews, but I think we can all agree that all of us would do anything for that cute, baby elephant. His connection with the Farrier children is quite special as well as the connection with his mother. Now, outside of Dumbo, the visuals are pretty spectacular. This world that Burton has created is unique with its steampunk style and bright colors, but it does work beautifully with the whimsical, circus atmosphere. The music is as equally as mesmerizing with its haunting tones and unique melodies.
This adaptation takes some risks with the story, choosing to focus on the human relationships alongside Dumbo’s arc. While I appreciate their different approach to the story, it almost gets bogged down by everything that is transpiring. The script feels clunky, and some of the performances even miss the mark. The film contains some significant shifts in tone throughout concerning how grounded and believable the story is supposed to be. I know this might sound like a weird complaint in light of the fact that our main character is a flying baby elephant, but there are vast differences between the traveling circus route that mirrors the real Ringling Bros. circus route and the appearance and attractions of Dreamland. This gap is also evident in the characters at times with Michael Keaton’s V.A. Vandevere becoming more cartoonish as the story progresses. There are some endearing qualities to this film as well as some brilliant performances by Nico Parker and Danny DeVito, but the film also has its fair share of odd creative choices and flat story beats.
While it might appear that I am being overly tough on this film, I did enjoy watching Dumbo. I think that children will love the whimsical scenery and this lovable elephant, but I also think it might be a little underwhelming for adult viewers. It still has some heartwarming messages about believing in yourself and our differences being our strengths. It also has some sweet moments for parents and kids to share, but some disjointed story beats and truly trippy sequences cannot be completely overlooked. I doubt that Dumbo will rank very highly among the best of the Disney live-action adaptations, but it is a fairly pleasing fare currently at the theaters.
Mollie is a film enthusiast, aspiring writer/screenwriter, and a lover of all things Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. She is the co-founder of The Digital Shore (@thedigitalshore) and Above The Line (@atl_movies). You can follow her many adventures through Twitter and Instagram at @mcbeach.