Dumbo is the most recent in a long line of live-action remakes of classic animated Disney movies. In an effort to capitalize on brand recognition and the nostalgia of audiences’ favorite classic films, Disney has been pumping out box office hit after box office hit with these new takes on old material. Disney has a list of these live-action remakes slated for production until 2020, so they are clearly here to stay. However, in order to prove themselves as more than just a money-making vehicle for Disney, the upcoming remakes will have to be much more engaging and interesting than what Dumbo delivers.
Dumbo follows the story of a family that works with a touring circus in 1919 rural America. After Collin Farrell’s character, Holt, returns from service in World War I he is disappointed to hear that in his absence the ringleader of the circus had sold the horses Holt used in his old act. In lieu of a performance job, the ringleader offers him a job as a caretaker to a newly purchased pregnant elephant, where he and his children soon encounter her new baby, Dumbo. Dumbo is initially ostracized for his enormous ears, but soon the children help Dumbo realize what makes him different is actually a very special gift.
Dumbo is a spectacular failure. So much of the story makes little to no sense when given more than a passing thought about what is actually happening on screen, in addition to the movie either forgetting about or ignoring story information and even characters that it earlier introduced. A certain piece of information is teased, then reminded to the audience multiple times and is simply never given a resolution by the film’s close. These issues can be attributed to the flimsy script and poor editing decisions, however, that’s the least of Dumbo’s troubles.
Almost all the performances in Dumbo are either bland and forgettable or just bad. Collin Farrell and Eva Green’s performances seem like they were in autopilot when filming, while the two child actors at the center of the movie are flat-out terrible. It seems harsh to criticize child performances, but when a film depends on their believability as much as Dumbo does, it is incredibly hard to ignore. Danny DeVito, however, gives a genuinely funny and over-the-top turn as the bimbo circus ringleader and is a very welcome sight whenever his character gets screen time.
Thematically speaking, Dumbo can be read as a cautionary tale about how when entertainment becomes perversely commercialized at the expense of others, it causes issues to everyone involved and ultimately losses its authenticity. Whether Tim Burton is attempting to be subversive or is just painfully un-self-aware, this message being inserted into a live-action, feature-length remake of a 1940s cartoon short is atrociously misguided. Tim Burton is literally engaging in the type of cheapening entertainment he is framing as evil in his film.
Dumbo is one of the worst movies I have seen in a long while and should be avoided if at all possible. It is worse than forgettable and left a bad taste in my mouth ever since I walked out of the theater.