Rating: C is for clowns!
Summary: A family of circus workers teach an elephant how to fly.
Another Disney remake! The latest venture from Tim Burton, Dumbo is the rework of a Disney classic about an elephant born with oversized ears who can fly. The little dude is quite the star and he’s a super cute round boy with glassy, hopeful eyes that tug at your heartstrings. Just like the animated version, he’s separated from his mother and spends the rest of the movie trying to get back to her.
Don’t let the title fool you. The character of Dumbo is only a quarter of the movie. The other three-fourths are taken up by the family that oversees the elephants, consisting of a father, daughter, and son, who are grieving the loss of a mother- wait a minute, I already reviewed Mary Poppins Returns! And seriously Disney- why haven’t you solved this missing-mother-and-the-family-falls-apart bullshit? Anyway. Dumbo gets a child translator because it’s geared towards kids who might be too young to make their own inferences- stuff like the kids relate to Dumbo since they also lost their mother, the father relates because he has to fill the void of Dumbo’s mother and all that stuff.
It would all be nice and sappy if it wasn’t so… empty. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely palette and the circus is a perfect setting for Burton aesthetics. Namely, the costumes and sets (especially the theme park) are incredible. Aside from Burton still trying to push the 3D thing in a couple of scenes, it all looks great… but there’s no real emotional pull in the narrative. There are no visuals that strike the emotional chord, the music is triumphant but there’s no punch felt, and the majority of the dialogue is stiff, wooden, or clunky with the exception of one Michael Keaton and the always underrated Eva Green. Colin Farrell, who is in the same boat as Charlie Hunnam when it comes to convincing me that he can lead a movie without a great cast, is made about fifty times better with Ms. Green. That woman has chemistry with haystacks, I swear. Everyone aside from her and Keaton feels like a caricature, an exaggeration of a personality trait.
Especially the audience. Oof. That was rough. In Dumbo’s first show, they start calling him a “freak” but like… this is probably the first elephant that a lot of people have seen in Joplin. “Wow, his ears are bigger than the pictures” or “I guess elephants grow into their ears” would have been the proper reaction.
“But it’s a family movie! Things need to be explicitly said and obvious for the kids!” Listen, Up was a family movie. Coco was geared towards families. The Lion King was for kids and kids alone. THE LEGO MOVIE. Things aimed towards kids doesn’t have to be watered down and explained in the dialogue. Tell it through tone, tell it through visual cues, use a tracking shot from the mother’s perspective between bars as she’s being driven away from her child- make it smart. These are the things that kids will remember, fondly go back to over and over, talk about with their parents, and show their children and their children and their children.
If there’s anything I can take away from this movie, it’s hope that the Cinema Sins takes are going to be out of this world. I try not to do this too much during movies and just enjoy it and forget logic and science until the lights come up, but I thought “Cinema Sin, Cinema Sin, Cinema Sin” more times than I ever have.
PS: Somewhere in here is a fan theory that this is a sequel to The Greatest Showman: Tom Thumb took over (Danny Devito) because Hugh Jacman got greedy (Michael Keaton), Zac Efron aged into Colin Farrell, Zendaya died offscreen (he’s got a thing for trapeze artists), and Burton decided that he wouldn’t make this a musical.