Are you a fan of Disney's live-action remakes of classics? If you aren't, well, sorry, they aren't going to stop. Before we get to meet Will Smith's Genie in the "Aladdin" remake in May, Dumbo the elephant is flying into theaters this Friday in Tim Burton's remake, which stars Danny Devito, Colin Farrell, Eva Green, Michael Keaton and an adorable CGI Dumbo.
Is it worth getting excited about, or does "Dumbo" never get off the ground? Here's what the reviews have to say:
It Is, Unsurprisingly, A Visual Delight
The circus settings do liberate Burton, giving him the opportunity to stage elaborate, bizarre acts with grandiosity and verve. Whether we're watching Dumbo hoisted along a fake burning building to launch himself off a collapsing platform, or trying to navigate an ill-advised trapeze act, whenever the spotlights come on and the crowd roars, Dumbo comes to life. It helps also that Burton never lets us forget that we're watching an elephant flying…. I could watch the circus scenes of this film forever, and thankfully, there are plenty of them.
Those flight sequences — first suspenseful, then euphoric — take you back to the classic "Dumbo" as much as they do to classic Burton.
[I]t is a sight to behold, especially for those who adore the weird aesthetic that Burton has cultivated for decades. Dreamland is a twisted, sepia-toned Disney World with marching clowns and Dixieland bands, and the director creates a dazzling big-top affair with synchronized dancers and trippy bubble elephants.
But The Plot Leaves Much To Be Desired
Screenwriter Ehren Kruger, infamous for three of the five Transformers films, has transformed the plot to include a mixed bag of human characters […] Everything you think will happen next most emphatically does. Predictability is the driving force[.]
[T]here are some reasonable moments at the beginning when Dumbo teeters on the verge of flight. But these moments are cancelled out by boredom, as the pointlessly complicated and drawn-out story grinds on to its tiresome conclusion. This has been painfully de-tusked.
Over and over, the movie strands its central, dewy-eyed, flappy-eared pachyderm in a series of unfortunate narrative events dreamed up by screenwriter Ehren Kruger. The writer has been miscast. He brings the same light touch and airy whimsy he brought to three separate "Transformers" pictures.
The Wealth Of Great Actors Is Wasted, Except For DeVito And Keaton
The hopes of diehard Burton fans might have been stoked by the recruitment of Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito, totems of the director's more consistent days. But this is another frustratingly uneven picture, with thin characters — human and animal — that fail to exert much of a hold, reclaiming the story only toward the end… The actors all do what they can, but mostly get lost in the shuffle and end up with too little to do, , like Alan Arkin's cynical New York banker.
Colin Farrell's wounded war vet Holt Farrier proves a disappointingly forgettable lead […] Thankfully the supporting characters are a riot. Danny DeVito is on rip-roaring Matilda form as ringleader Max Medici — part sadsack salesman, part conniving con-artist — and even better is Michael Keaton, who arrives at the point where the original Dumbo ends.
Long after "Dumbo" loses your interest and half of the cast seems to be asleep on screen (shoutout to Alan Arkin, whose hilariously lazy performance as a powerful banker gives viewers permission to stop caring about the plot), Keaton and DeVito are still having the time of their lives.
And Burton Seems To Have Played It A Bit Too Safe
Burton's Dumbo is hardly a bad film. But his fans will be disappointed by how little of the director's dark DNA made it into the finished product — a slick, serviceable, safe-as-kittens entertainment that frankly could've been made by anyone.
He's become a specialist in fulfilling some generic expectation of what a Tim Burton movie should be; it seems like forever since he's just made a Tim Burton movie.
Burton and his collaborators took the beautiful and moving "Dumbo" and somehow managed to turn it into a throwaway kiddie adventure like "Gus" or "Million Dollar Duck."
Burton Does At Least Take Some Not So Subtle Shots At… Disney
There's one plotline in the reimagined Dumbo that's truly surprising, and even ballsy, when you think about it. Basically, the movie offers a metaphor for the evils of corporate mergers, with villainous circus mogul V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) standing in for Disney itself.
What really drew me in was just how different the back half of the film felt from its animated forebear—a surprise, given that Disney's remakes tend to be prosaic imitations (The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast were especially so). In the original Dumbo, once the elephant learns to fly, the film wraps up pretty quickly; in the 2019 remake, that achievement just sets a capitalist nightmare into motion. The charms, and limits, of Vandevere's empire struck me as Burton drawing a stark parallel to his own career, one that's lately been defined by big budgets and forgettable outputs (several times bankrolled by Disney).
The computerized Dumbo is a marvel of cuteness and technical wizardry who steals every scene he's in. What character designer Michael Kutsche does in terms of eye movement and facial expressions sets a new gold standard. It's a shame that the script overcomplicates things.
"Dumbo" is no folly; it doesn't leave you feeling cheated. But it's not exhilarating either. It occupies a carefully tailored, underimagined middle ground where even an elephant who flies can come to seem, by the end, a figure of flamboyant caution.