With all of the recent and upcoming live-action Disney adaptations, I didn’t think any could be more unnecessary than Beauty and the Beast. As much as I may despise Maleficent, at least it tried to put a new twist on the material with its counterpoint story. But the lamest attempt so far comes from Tim Burton. Shocking I know. But alas, here we are with Dumbo, the most boring/depressing retelling yet. The least I hoped for was a fun reteaming of Batman Returns alumni: Burton, Michael Keaton, and Danny DeVito. I didn’t even get that. Keaton is smarmy and chews scenery while DeVito mugs and guffaws his way through the film.
It’s 1951 and the Medici Brothers’ Circus has seen better days. Max Medici (DeVito) is barely keeping the show afloat while dealing with financial troubles. But he’s placed all his money on a sure thing after purchasing the pregnant elephant Jumbo. A baby elephant is just what the show needs. Meanwhile, World War I vet, Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) has returned to find his children (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins) estranged and everyone now gets to deal with the Disney-Single-Family-Unit-Trope.
After Jumbo gives birth to the giant eared Dumbo, Jumbo is sent into a rage while being harassed by the crowd. Jumbo winds up killing a member of the staff so now Medici has sold her off. But you can’t keep a good Dumbo down as he finally learns how to fly and is quickly sold off to the conniving Dreamland amusement park owner, V. A. Vandevere (Keaton). Now, everyone must band together to save Dumbo, and Jumbo, before Vandevere comes to terms with extreme measures.
I have no idea who thought Ehren Kruger’s screenplay fit for filming — other than Disney execs. Gone are the talking animals replaced with an onslaught of miserably boring humans. When you go to see a movie called Dumbo, you expect the movie to be about our beloved Disney pachyderm. Not a bunch of characters we’ve never seen before taking over the poor animal’s movie. No one cares about Holt’s missing arm or him trying to reconnect with his kids. We came to see a movie about a flying elephant. The kids aren’t charming enough to keep your attention long enough to realize how bored you are. Eva Green as a trapeze artist looks every bit as bored as you’ll be in every scene.
The Disney live-action train has absolutely no signs of slowing down and there’s no end in sight. With three more headed our way this year, I hope they’re better than this. Dumbo could have seized the opportunity to make a film larger-than-life with an adorable main attraction. Instead, we’re stuck with the sideshows front and center for most of the runtime. The most embarrassing joke being Michael Buffer announcing (twice!), “Are you ready for DUMBOOOO?!” If that doesn’t make you roll your eyes now, it’s even more wince-inducing in the film.
Don’t step right up, folks, there’s nothing to see here.