"Dumbo" Review: The Film Doesn't Soar
2019 promises to give us a slew of live-action films based off of some classic property. Aladdin, The Lion King and Dumbo are the titles parents can get ready to take their kids to. As a parent of young children, I now realize that some films my parents took me to growing up is another example of their love because sitting through it must have been hard to endure. Dumbo is retribution for their sacrifice, and I can only hope the rest of the year doesn’t exact more vengeance!
Danny DeVito runs the Medici Bros circus as Max Medici. His circus of outsiders travel from town to town in 1919 by train, bringing fun to the towns they stop in. Amongst the circus family is Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) and his two children: Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). They take care of the elephants, which includes Dumbo, the newest addition to the clan. Dumbo has oversized ears and they quickly learn that the tickle of a feather can make him fly.
Once the word is out that there’s a flying elephant in the world, the chance to bring the spectacle under his own circus brings tycoon V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) running. He buys the Medici circus and pushes to make Dumbo the main event. You can imagine the heroism that has to follow in order to keep Dumbo safe.
This film comes down to casting and it’s hit and miss. Danny DeVito is great, but he gets put into a closet literally and figuratively after Vandevere takes over. Keaton enjoys playing Vandevere a little too much, becoming a caricature of the evil villain missing a mustache but with a bad toupee. Farrell’s southern accent is absolutely ridiculous, and Nico Parker’s delivery of her lines is equally cringeworthy.
The first half of the film feels like Disney got director Tim Burton to succumb to their bright and beautiful ways, but once Dumbo goes under Vandevere control the film takes a darker tone. Cinematographer Ben Davis changes the bright and hopeful lighting scheme to a dark and oppressed washed out dark blue. There’s no doubt that Burton is able to capture some of the wonder and awe of the circus through his set pieces and swells in the score, but that’s the best part of the film and it’s not enough.
My kids loved the film, and I was shocked at the number of adults in the theater without kids as well. So this film will definitely have an audience of kids or adults looking for a nostalgia fix from the 1941 animation. If it’s an indication of the films we’re about to see this year take a deep breath and make sure you’re seats are reclinable because at least your money will go toward getting a comfortable spot to watch the back of your eyelids.