Disney has had success recently with live-action remakes of some of the company’s most popular animated films, including 2015’s Cinderella (starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett, and Helena Bonham Carter) and 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, and Josh Gad).
This Friday, March 29, the live-action version of Dumbo hits the silver screen. The original cartoon tale about a very unique elephant was released in 1941 and has become a beloved favorite by several generations of Disney fans. However, based on reviews by critics, the new version is just not as magical.
In the Tim Burton-directed movie, written by Ehren Kruger, former circus star Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns from war and is asked, along with his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), to take care of an elephant, Dumbo, with gigantic ears by the circus’ owner, Max Medici (Danny DeVito). At first, Dumbo is considered a laughingstock, but when it is discovered that he can fly, the circus becomes incredibly popular once again. Entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) then recruits Dumbo for his new entertainment venture, Dreamland, where he is paired with an aerial artist, Colette Marchant (Eva Green). But is Dreamland all that it’s cracked up to be?
Most of the reviewers agree that the CGI-animated elephant is as cute as cute can be, and will surely sell a ton of merchandise for the Mouse House. They also believe that the human actors did a good job with the material they were given, but the characters were not as fleshed out as they could have been.
The new version of Dumbo is almost two hours long, while the animated original was just 64 minutes long, which means there was a lot of filler added in to the story. Additionally, many of the critics missed Dumbo’s sidekick, Timothy Q. Mouse, who is not featured in the new film.
In his review of Dumbo, The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw said that “all the charm and heartbreak of Disney’s classic animation is missing in this retro-futurist, live-action clunker.”
“It is a flightless pachyderm of a film that saddles itself with 21st-century shame at the idea of circus animals, overcomplicating the first movie, losing the directness, abandoning the lethal pathos, mislaying the songs, and finally getting marooned in some sort of steampunk Jurassic Park.”
Scott Mendelson of Forbes said that the loose adaptation features very dark, mature themes such as PTSD, the death of a wife and mother, workers’ rights, “the inherent corruption of big business, and the notion of seemingly friendly corporate tycoons secretly trying to screw the little guy.”
Collider reviewer Vinnie Mancuso gave the film a B- rating and wrote, “If you simply came to watch a precious baby elephant flying around the big top, Dumbo delivers the goods.”
“Like most circuses, Dumbo will occasionally make your heart soar. But it’s best not to look too closely behind the curtain, because those thrills might start to look mighty cheap.”
— Walt Disney Studios (@DisneyStudios) March 24, 2019
Entertainment Weekly‘s Chris Nashawaty also gave the movie a B- rating, placing most of the blame on it not being a great film on director Burton.
“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.”
Hopefully, Disney’s other two live-action remakes opening in 2019 — Aladdin, scheduled to be released on May 24, and The Lion King, slated to come out July 19 — will receive better reviews from movie critics.