Dumbo - Review

Tim Burton’s latest Disney offering is tainted by an overstuffed story, and the wasted opportunity that lies in the main character. Dumbo is cute, though!

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Dumbo is a steady line, unwavering and straight even when its story demands a curve. Though promotional articles have portrayed Tim Burton as happy to be Disney’s resident weirdo, that energy does not surface here. Aside from a cast that is constantly competing for most forgettable performance, Dumbo does not add much to the Disney classic, save for a chance to re-experience the wonder of being a child: without the benefit of endless possibility.

In his cast, Burton has fulfilled a lifelong hope for many fans: reunite the Batman Returns cast. Danny DeVito plays circus ringleader Maximilian Medici, and Michael Keaton is the pure-evil Mr. Vandemere. The role reversal is fun for a moment before the reality of thin characters and trivial motivations take root under toupes and fitted suits. DeVito remains the best of the lot, however, bringing his trademark energy to the carnival-showman role with poise. His best scene is unfortunately the last, when he gets a chance to address the camera directly in a refreshing moment of inclusion. Dumbo is a story built on the will of the public, always portrayed with either an axe to grind or a dumbfounded grin: bringing the audience into the final show allows for a much needed change in perspective.

As has become Disney’s M.O., Dumbo employs quality special effects that serve to dull the film’s rather, well, dull edges. The work done to render Dumbo isn’t as engaging as The Jungle Book, but with a film like this, personality is all that matters, and the visual effects team capture it in full color. Large blue eyes, flapping ears, a child-like smile: Dumbo is as adorable and innocent here as he ever was, and remains so for the entire film. His outcast tale strikes harder thanks to emotive effects, but the story around him isn’t so forward inclined. Hitting a hard stop at the second act and never fully resolving, two hours begins to feel very long.

As soon as DeVito is removed from the spotlight and the revolving door of supporting characters take control, Dumbo loses the magic that the original carried in spades. Burton’s film is explosions, electricity, epic: Dumbo doesn’t warrant such a grandiose narrative, one that often struggles for control of the film. In its best moments, Dumbo sticks to the script, creating one of the more faithful Disney adaptations in years, filled with villains for the sake of villains, dames, and emasculated fathers. At its weakest, it takes an already loose plot and directs it at the antagonist, leaving a forgettable burn mark across the entirety of the film. And once again, Eva Green’s immense talents are regulated to show-off looks; will someone free her from Burton’s nest and cast her in a lead role?

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Dumbo does not cut the pink elephants scene. It reimagines it in such a way that can hardly be called memorable, neither terrifying nor family-friendly. This is Dumbo in a scene, an adaptation that converts the intrigue and genuine terror of the original into something consumable, ready to be taken with a dose of family lessons and DeVito antics. Dumbo is rendered well, but the story around him blurs his arc almost completely. Burton hasn’t made a bad film, but a near soulless one.