Full transparency. I’ve never seen the original (or at least I don’t remember seeing it) so I have no context for what they might’ve changed or how this relates to the 1941 cartoon. I’m judging this movie independent of all that, on its own merits and faults.
We follow a traveling circus ran by Max Medici (Danny DeVito) but they’re pretty down on their luck. One of his past performers Holt (Colin Farrell) returns from serving in the military and reunites with his children (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins) though his wife passed away while he was gone. There’s a new addition to the circus, an elephant about to give birth. Everyone is surprised when the baby elephant has huge ears and seems deformed, though eventually it’s uncovered that the elephant can use these ears to fly. This gets the attention of entertainment mogul V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) and his high-flying Colette (Eva Green). Vandevere brings the circus into his own theme park, though his deal and promises aren’t quite what was expected.
The adults in this film all do an admirable job, including a surprisingly good performance from Colin Farrell. It’s also nice to see Keaton and DeVito reunite after Batman Returns in 1992.
I also applaud the visual effects here, as the title character of Dumbo is quite a likable little guy, full of personality and vulnerability. One of the cons that I’ll get to in a second is that it’s hard to watch so many bad things happen to him, considering how adorable they made him.
What doesn’t work?
This is not a pleasant movie to watch. Like… It’s just bad news for Dumbo for an hour and a half. Bad things keep happening and there’s not much enjoyment in it. This movie had very little humor or levity, so it felt like it was just tense and suspenseful the whole time, with no time to really enjoy the film. Its tone is dark and unrelenting.
It’s confusing because this seems to be targeted at children, but this doesn’t come off as a children’s film at all. It’s sad, tense, and depressing. There are also some frightening moments that I wouldn’t recommend for small children at all, so maybe think twice before taking the little ones.
So who is this movie for? I have no idea. This movie doesn’t seem to have an audience and I’m not quite sure who was rallying for this movie to be made.
It also doesn’t help that the film relies on two children for most of its heartfelt moments and these child actors really miss the mark, especially the young girl Nico Parker, who has a vacant look on her face for the entire runtime. Dumbo flies for the first time and you can tell she’s in a soundstage looking at a floating prop and being told to pretend.
Dumbo shouldn’t exist. It doesn’t feel necessary and it’s not enjoyable to watch. The effects are decent and our adult leads do their best, but some horrible child actors drag down most of the emotional moments. This movie isn’t for anyone, it was made and then sent out into the void, failing to capture the heart of past live-action Disney remakes.