As the first of Disney’s parade of live action adaptations to come out this year, “Dumbo” is a sour sign of what’s to come.
Dark, off-putting and poorly written, “Dumbo” is torn between staying true to the original 1941 cartoon and coming up with enough extra bloat to fill out a proper modern day movie runtime. Did you know the original “Dumbo” movie was barely an hour long?
Not even director Tim Burton can make “Dumbo” really work. HIs signature macabre style barely comes out to play.
As we all know, “Dumbo” is about a circus elephant who can fly by flapping his big, floppy ears. But the new adaptation is also about a distant father trying to reconnect with his children, a pair of children trying to help baby Dumbo reunite with his mother, a circus owner trying to keep his troupe together, a French acrobat struggling to find happiness, and an evil media mogul whose primary motivation for conducting business is to be as evil as possible in every decision he makes.
All of these plots and more are packed into the new “Dumbo”, and none of them flow nicely together. The plots come and go, start and stop, and trip over each other in an effort to make this movie about more than just a flying elephant.
Why this movie needed to be about more than just the spectacle of an adorable, CGI flying elephant is anyone’s guess. The titular pachyderm is the only redeeming part of the film. It really is a lot of fun to see the elephant fly. But everything else is a mess.
The filmmakers had nearly a blank slate with a “Dumbo” remake considering how little material was actually in the original. But they apparently couldn’t decide on one singular, entertaining narrative. The film suffers for all the plot contrivances and story choices.
It’s especially troublesome when the new film tries to adapt a scene from the original cartoon, but is forced to alter the scene to fit either modern day sensibilities or the mechanics of the new movie. An attempt to re-do “Pink Elephants on Parade” for modern audiences — Disney isn’t about to have their baby elephant get blackout drunk in a 2019 kids film — is awkwardly placed and accomplishes nothing for the film.
“Dumbo” is filled with a lot of such pointless, oddly placed story choices. To list them all would require a lot more column space. It’s a poorly scripted picture.
The movie is dark, too, in the literal sense. Burton obviously made the choice not to light the film with typical Hollywood lighting, but to instead use whatever ambient light was available. This led to a lot of dark, shadowy shots, that once you notice, you can’t unsee. It’s another odd choice for the movie.
Don’t go into “Dumbo” expecting a bright, cheery, Disney-friendly reimagining of an old classic.