REARDON: 'Dumbo' flies but doesn’t soar

Mark Reardon
March 29, 2019 - 3:18 pm

(Photo by PA Images/Sipa USA)

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Disney has had a pretty good track record of turning some of their classic animated films into live action remakes. “Beauty and the Beast,” “Cinderella” and “The Jungle Book” come to mind. Of course everyone is hoping that magic happens again when the live action “Lion King” remake hits theaters this summer.

But ahead of that along comes Tim Burton’s remake of the 1941 Disney classic “Dumbo.” There were only a handful of Walt Disney feature films before Dumbo came along—"Snow White," "Pinocchio" and "Fantasia." The movie only ran 64 minutes, but that didn’t matter — it was movie magic and the climax that built up to the flying elephant was memorable and special.

The remake starts with Colin Farrell playing Holt Farrier, a father who returns home from WWII after losing his left arm in combat. His two children are doing their best to cope after influenza killed their mother. Remember in any Disney movie you can’t have two parents.

Either the Mom or Dad has to die. I believe it’s federal law.

The kids are occupying much of their time taking care of a momma elephant known as Mrs. Jumbo who appears to be sick, but the real story is she’s preggerrs and before you know it along comes a goofy awkward pachyderm with over-sized ears. Danny Devito plays Max Madici, the owner of the Medici Circus who’s struggling to make ends meet and thinks the elephant is a freak. When the big tent moves to Joplin, MO and just when it seems like everything is on track for success Mrs. Jumbo acts up during a circus performance, she’s sent packing and ends up being sold for half price. But what to do with baby Dumbo?

Good thing for him those giant ears give him the ability to fly (spoiler alert!) and Max sees an opportunity to not only save the circus but cash in. He cuts a deal with a nefarious Coney Island amusement park magnet V.A Vandervere played by Michael Keaton who only cares about selling tickets.

You would think a Tim Burton reunion with Keaton is a perfect fit, but he’s one of many characters in “Dumbo” who seem out of place. Farrell doesn’t seem comfortable in his role and the kids here are terrible. Since Dumbo doesn’t talk it’s all left to the visuals and it’s simply not enough. There’s just something about this movie from the very beginning that seems off and it never figures out a way to connect the dots to bring any real emotion.

The production design, the costumes and of course Danny Elfman’s (a Burton staple) soundtrack all fit nicely, but the script by Ehren Kruger holds this remake back from any cohesiveness.

“Dumbo” should satisfy the kids especially on a rainy weekend, but it’s uneven, awkward and forgettable.

I can only give it a C.

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