Movie ReviewsDisney’s Dumbo – Never Gets Off The Ground (Early Review)

Keith NoakesMarch 28, 2019

This elephant could never really get off the ground.

Synopsis: From Disney and visionary director Tim Burton, the all-new grand live-action adventure “Dumbo” expands on the beloved classic story where differences are celebrated, family is cherished and dreams take flight. Circus owner Max Medici enlists former star Holt Farrier and his children Milly and Joe to care for a newborn elephant whose oversized ears make him a laughingstock in an already struggling circus. But when they discover that Dumbo can fly, the circus makes an incredible comeback, attracting persuasive entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere, who recruits the peculiar pachyderm for his newest, larger-than-life entertainment venture, Dreamland. Dumbo soars to new heights alongside a charming and spectacular aerial artist, Colette Marchant, until Holt learns that beneath its shiny veneer, Dreamland is full of dark secrets. (Walt Disney Pictures)

Starring: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, and Danny DeVito

Writer: Ehren Kruger

Director: Tim Burton

Rating: G (Canada)/PG (United States)

Running Time: 112mins


In the age of Disney live-action reboots, here is yet another featuring the lovable, flying baby elephant Dumbo. For a reboot, Disney’s Dumbo definitely gets the Dumbo part right but fails to surround the titular elephant with an engaging enough story. It could be argued that Dumbo gets swallowed by his own story. In this film, Dumbo found himself in a struggling circus run by Max Medici (DeVito). Meanwhile, a soldier and a former circus star named Holt Farrier (Farrell) returned to his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Jo (Finley Hobbins) who would clearly form a strong bond with the elephant.

Suffice it to say, Dumbo was exactly what Medici’s circus needed but it would take some time to get there as he would have to find a way to overcome his oversized ears. However, others would hold less pure intentions for Dumbo than the children. As much as the story was about the relationship between Dumbo and Milly and Jo, it was also about Milly and Jo and Holt. Other than the obvious parallels, this subplot was not nearly as strong or deep. Further complicating things, a shady, caricaturish businessman named V.A. Vandevere (Keaton) was a being a shady, caricaturish businessman by enlisting Medici’s circus, specifically Dumbo, to perform in his spectacular venue.

The story more or less goes as you would expect from beginning to end. Told from the perspective of the children, the general narrative and central themes here have been played out several times before. Though at the end of the day, the film delivers with its portrayal of the cutesy elephant at its center with Dumbo thanks to some great CGI flying sequences but film did not feature nearly enough of him. It was easy to establish an emotional connection with him, however, it was more difficult to care about any of the human characters and/or the rest of the story for that matter.

Dumbo is unfortunately swallowed up by the many inferior subplots around him. The story should have been much more about him than it was here. In addition to the mediocre dialog that was prevalent throughout the film, its attempt to redeem all the character fell short due to the lack of character development stemming from a convoluted narrative. The film world was magical but we were only kept at arms length. While there were plenty of inventive pieces here, the film did not go nearly far enough.

The acting across the board was okay though the actors could only go as far as the material took them. None of the actors were asked to do all that much for the most part. Farrell as Holt Farrier was a little lifeless but was still somewhat compelling to watch. Keaton as Vandevere was intentionally or not over-the-top, however, he was still fun to watch regardless. DeVito as Medici didn’t feel like he wasn’t playing a character, rather an extension of himself which also fun to watch, stealing scenes in the process. New Burton muse Eva Green as an aerial artist named Colette Marchant was magnetic.

Overall, Dumbo at least gets the cuteness of said baby elephant right but doesn’t offer much else than the same general narrative and central themes that we’ve seen countless times before and would never truly get off the ground. It’s convoluted story along with thin characters and mediocre dialog made it difficult to ever get emotionally invested. Nevertheless, while it may be enough for the kids, it will leave most wanting more.

Score: 6/10

*Disney’s Dumbo opens in theatres on March 29th*

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