Geek Review: Dumbo

I wasn’t much of a Disney fan growing up, but I would say I did enjoy Dumbo.  It’s not a perfect movie, as adult me can see the problematic elements (those crows) that flew over kid me’s head, but it’s a fairly solid piece of animation, and it’s only a little over an hour long, so it’s good for kids with short attention spans.  Plus, “Pink Elephants” is awesome nightmare fuel.

So, now there’s a new live action Dumbo, and it’s  twice the length of the original.  It was also directed by Tim Burton, so…well, make of that what you will.

Circus trick rider Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell with a really bad accent) returns to the traveling circus he calls home just after World War I.  He lost an arm in the war, his wife died of the flu while he was away, and the circus was so poor, ringmaster Max Medici (Danny DeVito) had to sell the horses.  Holt still has two kids to take care, a daughter obsessed with science and a son obsessed with…something, I suppose…so, he’ll take on the only job left, namely mucking after the elephants, particularly the pregnant one Max just bought.  And yes, that elephant gives birth to a big-eared baby.

Burton has, for good reason, been deemed well past his prime, and Dumbo isn’t exactly an all-time classic.  His trademarks have always been the visual weirdness and odd ideas.  Plot and character have never been his strength, and Dumbo is actually rather tame as Burton’s visuals go.  That weakness in character development is a bit obvious here.as the small circus Dumbo is born to is filled with people we are ostensibly meant to care about, but I couldn’t even name most of them.  But I will say to Burton’s credit is his live action adaptations don’t come across as slavishly devoted to simply retelling the original story like some of the others have.  Instead, he takes a page out of the Mary Poppins Returns playbook and adds a blatant human villain to a story that didn’t have one the first time around.  Actually, given most of the characters in the original were talking animals, that may be necessary since none of the animals in this one talk.

Instead, we get Michael Keaton as a guy with a giant theme park who buys out smaller entertainment venues and does other stuff that makes for odd timing given the recent Diseny-Fox merger.

So, yeah, it’s your standard late-period Tim Burton movie.  There are ideas here only half realized, nods to the original, and a Pink Elephants sequence that, well, was both creative and not the sort of dark stuff I would hope Burton would come up with.  This Dumbo is not a bad movie, but it’s not exactly a good one either.  7 out of 10 mice who barely appear in the movie.

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