When I saw that Tim Burton was jumping on board the Disney live-action remake bandwagon, I was kind of excited. No no, wait! Don’t run away! I was excited because I always thought Dumbo was a movie that walked a fine line between being seriously messed up (just YouTube that pink elephant sequence) and cute. It had the potential for a far darker treatment and Tim Burton, with his talent for translating his uncomfortably out of kilter view of the world into film, was the director to do it.

Sadly I can say that after a night of thinking about his new Dumbo, I feel he has lost his feather in a movie that crashes and burns when it could easily have soared high.

The classic 1941 movie was not written to break any new ground. Its themes of friendship and overcoming adversity followed the usual Disney formula for a good reason, it was made to be simple. I’m not kidding here either. It was a short movie created to recoup financial losses after Disney suffered massively at the box office after the underwhelming performance of Fantasia. Burton’s Dumbo is still all cute, indeed to the point of nausea, so he got that much right. He also gets that infamous pink elephant scene right, which is once again great Burton territory and as disturbing as can be.

In Burton’s re-imagining we see Colt (Colin Farrell) returning from war to a circus that has fallen on hard times. In his absence his wife has passed away and left his two children in the care of the circus troupe. His older daughter Milly, played by Nico Parker, is a budding scientist who wants little to do with ‘showing off to people’ in the circus while his son Joe (Finley Hobbins)… is… I honestly have no clue. The script writers must have forgotten about him as he serves little to no purpose other than supporting his sister’s goals. Ruining Colt’s plans to return to the saddle is the fact that he lost an arm in the war, his own personal ‘feather’ in a way that is so in your face you might have to duck to avoid the parallels. Heading this troupe is Medici, played by the ever awesome Danny DeVito. When he is given his space he relishes the role, but sadly this is diminished when the morally bankrupt businessman Vandemere buys Dumbo and they all move to a bigger and ‘better’ circus.

Vandemere is played by Michael Keaton in a role he obviously had a great deal of fun with. His nefarious character is a borderline moustache twirling villain but Keaton manages to save this poor writing by, well, being Keaton. This rings true once again for his business partner Colette, a role nearly saved by the awesome Eva Green. Sadly, not even her acting chops can save the jarring change in her character midway through the movie, one of the many plot issues that Dumbo suffers from. One moment she is as bad as Vandemere, the next the kids and their father have fallen for her. But this is something the entire movie suffers from, the scripting and pacing are all over the place and it honestly has no clue what type of film it wants to be.

Is this a movie for your little kiddies? Perhaps you have a Sunday morning free and want to treat them to the awe you experience decades ago with the original? Well, if you hate sleep and don’t mind your children waking up from nightmares, sure…

‘But this is Burton, Nick!’ That one reader who made it this far usefully informs me. Yes, but NO. This is a half-arsed Burton who was probably reined in by the suits at Disney Manor with a stern ‘do not scare the kiddies… too much’ order.

It’s always sad when an audience (in this case a bunch of snobby critics) laugh at something for being bad. Sadly, this was the case every time the character of Neils Skellig, played by Joseph Gatt, spoke on screen. You see Burton and co. thought it was a good idea to use the clichéd South African as the bad poacher guy… Elephant shoes and all. His accent swung from German to an attempt at South African so wildly inaccurate that we all laughed at the crap he said. The script is just, well, bad. It’s even worse that some of the jokes are so insensitive that we laughed from being shocked! There is literally a joke that fat shames someone for eating from depression and it’s spoken by one of the kids in an innocent enough way, but it was so bizarre to hear. There are some really funny moments though, usually at the expense of Strongman Rongo (DeObia Oparei) who is asked to do just about every job out there by Medici.

Dumbo is cute, I’ll give the elephant that (and for the most part the CGI is fantastic), but the movie is not stylistically coherent not by any stretch of the imagination. Is this a Burton movie? Kind of.

Is this a children’s movie, well the elephant is super cute and there is a dancing monkey so maybe? No, no it isn’t. Dumbo is a movie that is let down by a terrible script and themes that are shoved in your face with no subtlety. It’s a great pity as I think if Burton was allowed to go FULL Burton we could have had something special. The visuals are stunning, as is the soundtrack but these are just not enough to carry a movie with such a shoddy, tonally insecure script.

Last Updated: March 28, 2019

Dumbo
Many people scoffed at the idea of a Tim Burton-directed Dumbo but I was excited at seeing what new things could be done. Instead, we're subjected to a scrappy script, misplaced humour and a film that has no idea what it wants to be.
6.0
/10
51/ 100

Check Also

Disney’s Jungle Cruise Review

If you love adventure movies with the same fantasy feel as the Pirates of the Caribbean mo…