This review is spoiler-free.
First of all, the design and CGI of Dumbo is nothing short of sensational. He felt real and alive and I just wanted to play with those wonderful floppy ears. Yet, for me, this was to be the films only real triumph. The film fails on both a story and character standpoint. It does well with some things but then falls down with other things. It has highs, it has lows. Sure, it’s rare to find a movie that has that consistency during the whole thing. But there were many little factors that chipped away at all the positives of this movie. This ultimately left me feeling a little disappointed leaving the theatre.
While there are lots of little niggles, the film has one major crime. One of the most heartbreaking and emotional scenes in the original animated movie is completely fumbled, in my opinion. You know the one I’m talking about. When he is separated from his mother. I went into this movie bracing myself to be transported back 34 years to five-year-old me sat crying my eyes out in front of the TV. The years have not hardened me, this scene just fundamentally failed to deliver. Another iconic scene, the drunken elephant trip, however, was more of a hit. Though again it lacked that little something extra to make it truly great.
So what about the cast?
Well, again, it’s not great. No one was particularly bad, it just felt as if this, rather impressive, ensemble cast just sort of, ‘phoned it in’? Maybe that’s harsh? I’m fans of many of these actors, but I just felt like there were any truly outstanding performances. I was excited to see what Michael Keaton would bring to the role of the evil V. A. Vandevere. While I loved the over-the-top nature of the performance, it was not as layered as much as I would have hoped for. So even this was a little bit of a disappointment. Just a little though.
As for the man behind the camera? Dumbo is probably Tim Burton’s best film in a long time. And that’s more of a backhanded compliment more than anything. Burton has lost his appeal over the past decade. While he’ll always be an iconic director, his genius rarely seeps through these days. This was the modern-style Tim Burton film we’re used to now. Of course, there is still some of that visual style and artistry, and when the film get’s it right, the sky is the limit. However, as is the case with Burton these days, these moments are fleeting at best.
I went into this film fully hoping for it to be a success, but when comparing it to the other recent live-action adaptions, it sits very near the bottom. It pains me to say this, as I’m very fond of the property, but Dumbo never gives you enough reason to fall in love with the movie.
Dumbo has lost a little of its charm when converting from animation to live-action. There are still some magical and loving moments, but overall I was a tad disappointed. The bland human characters and weak story further hinder the movie’s cause. While Dumbo himself is wonderfully crafted and incredibly lovable, he is the only shining light in whats is, quite frankly a mixed bag. The few sprinkles of stardust are not enough to save this movie. Enjoyable in parts, but a modern family classic, this is not. For that, I would stick to the animation (Fast forwarding the racism of course.)