Movie Review: Dumbo (2019)



Starring: Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton, and Colin Farrell

Directed By: Tim Burton (Batman, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory)

Rated: PG

Runtime: 1 hour 52 minutes

The latest in the line of Disney live action remakes of animated classics is Dumbo.Originally, Disney’s fourth animated film, Dumbo tells the tale of an elephant with big ears who (with the aid of a feather) can fly.Dumbo takes the circus world by storm, but really just wants to be reunited with his mother.The 1941 film takes us on a brisk 64 minute journey from beginning to end and has endured as an all-time classic.

There are numerous problems with remaking this movie into a live-action affair.First off, you’re never equaling the success of the first one.Sure, it’s already made more money than its predecessor.It’s extremely rare that a remake tops the original in terms of quality.That goes without saying, so I went ahead and said it.I get why they’re remaking these.It’s an easy cash grab for Disney, the titles have name recognition and a built-in fan base.Jungle Book was excellent, Beauty and the Beast was fine.But even Dumbo specifically has problems with a live action remake.

Mainly, the world has changed in the 78 years since the original Dumbo was released.The world has evolved to a place where elephants aren’t even in the circus anymore.So, getting me to want that in your movie is going to be extremely difficult even if the elephant in this movie is CGI.This story is problematic at its core.

I’ll get to the actual movie I saw this week, eventually, don’t worry.The final problem with the sheer idea of a remake is that, like I said earlier, the original is 64 minutes long.Movies aren’t that short anymore.I watched The Invisible Man earlier today.It was maybe 70 minutes long.Movies are longer nowadays.This remake is 112 minutes long.You’ve nearly doubled the runtime, adding 48 minutes to a story is inherently going to change the movie.

Tim Burton directs the 2019 version of Dumbo, it is the fourth remake of his career.Not even his first remake of a Disney animated classic!He remade Alice in Wonderland nearly a decade ago.Burton is known for including big, vibrant sets, his movies are either bright and colorful or drab and bleak.He’s a director whose name you can throw up on a marquee and a lot of people know him and get excited about his attachment to a project, but when you take a closer look hasn’t directed a good movie since the 90s.

Burton shows a lot of restraint in creating a big world without inserting his trademark brand of weird oddities.Danny DeVito stars as a small time circus promoter who lucks in to having Dumbo under his big tent when the pachyderm learns he can fly.He’s excellent in the movie.A caring man, but an absolute grafter.

Michael Keaton plays a big-time circus executive who buys DeVito’s circus just to get his hands on the attraction of all attractions, Dumbo the flying elephant.Keaton’s character is way over the top.Cartoonishly evil.He’s the only person in the movie overacting, and I can’t believe they let him play the character this way, when no one else in the movie is exaggerating anything.Everyone is playing true to life except Keaton.

Colin Farrell plays a returning war hero who lost an arm in combat and can no longer ride horses.He’s allowed to stay and work for DeVito as an elephant…janitor.We’ll word it that way.He has two children, who could not seem more wooden and uncomfortable on screen.I hate critiquing child actors, it seems wrong, but if I have to make a note about them.That’s my thought.

What you’re given here in the 2019 version of Dumbo is a movie that at times works and at times doesn’t.A lot of the first half works, it’s really sweet.Then the movie sort of continues to drag on and on even though everyone knows what’s going to happen.Why prolong the inevitable?

Note for parents and grandparents.This is a movie for bigger kids.Not the little ones.There’s a section in the back half of the movie where our characters go to Nightmare Island.So, run that through your filter before deciding if this is the right movie for you and your kiddos.I’m a dad now, so I definitely know everything about parenting everyone’s kids.

Dumbo makes for an uneven time at the movies, but not a terrible time.One moment the movie is full of whimsy and nostalgia, and the next you could be bored out your mind.Burton shows a lot of restraint.This movie could have gotten very bizarre with freak shows and other circus attractions, I commend him for staying in an appropriate lane.The performances are probably the biggest reason why the movie feels so uneven.DeVito and Farrell are really solid.Keaton and the kids are less so.The movie eventually comes around to realize the problematic nature of circus animals, but it’s too little, too late.

On a scale of ‘See It/Stream It/Skip It’ for the newcomers to the show.I feel it’s self-explanatory but just in case.I judge movies on a three tiered scale.See It, means rush out and see it in a theater, have a night out.Stream It means you can wait to rent it or catch it on Netflix, even cable.Skip It means the movie was dreadful and you do not need to waste your valuable time.

I say ‘stream it’ here.Good enough to give it a watch.Some of you will love it, others will loathe it.

If you liked movies like The Jungle Book (2016), Beauty and the Beast (2017), and Alice in Wonderland (2010) you might like Dumbo (2019)

2 out of 5 stars.Not enough to recommend, not enough to fully deride.There’s an audience for this movie, but it isn’t me.


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