While I didn’t pay any money for my tickets to Dumbo, I did buy a Coke slurpee from the AMC Boston Common concessions counter—which is, as a brief aside, the least urgent place I have ever patronized—so I had a financial stake in this movie being good. And, like the unnamed extra who walks out of a bad circus performance halfway through Dumbo, I left the theater shouting “I want my money back!” I think I would have gotten more weird looks had a few dozen people not already gotten up and left before the last scene ended.
The latest Disney cash-grab (or, as I am now inclined to believe, money laundering scheme) is a live-action version of 1941’s Dumbo. The original animated cartoon featured engaging animation, a compelling storyline, great music, and racially controversial crows. The new live-action version features actively bad CGI, a drawn out and tiresome storyline, cartoonish (in the bad way) characters, poor acting, little to no music, and no racially controversial crows. Way to go, Disney.
Dumbo is probably one of the worst “blockbuster” movies that Disney has made in recent memory (at least John Carter was fun to watch). If you’re going to eschew all creativity or originality by simply re-releasing a movie you already made, at least try. Fingers crossed for the new, live-action Lion King.
It’s actually worth explaining the plot of our new Dumbo because, for some reason, they decided to divert from the original. So, Dumbo opens on the failing Medici Brothers, owned and operated by Max (Danny DeVito). We are blurrily introduced to a host of side characters like the strong man, the snake charmer, the mermaid, the magicians et. al. They are used throughout the movie as “comic relief” but really bear no further mention. The audience (and the children that comprise it) next meet our heroine and hero—siblings Milly and Joe Farrier (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins, respectively). Dumbo does a great job at showing that outstanding child actors are very hard to come by. Very hard. Their father, Holt (Colin Farrell), returns home from World War I minus one arm. They struggle to make do at the circus until a baby elephant is born with enormous ears (guess who?). The children discover that Dumbo can fly, and the movie stumbles along from there.
First, Dumbo didn’t need the introduction of so many human characters. The talking animals that appeared in the original movie are nowhere to be seen (1941’s Dumbo featured the ringleader as the only human character). Now, we are forced to endure a tour de force in flat lines delivered by dead-eyed, robotic children and scene-chewing by every adult in the film. Farrell is the least egregious actor in the movie, which is really saying something. He has adopted a tough and gruff exterior, accentuated by a deep and curt drawl. In any other movie, he would be over exaggerated to the point of ridicule. Here, he is a much-needed reprieve of realism just by relation. His other on-screen counterparts vomit out their clichéd lines of dialogue. I thought I could almost see the spittle flying from Michael Keaton’s (sorry, V.A. Vandevere) mouth.
The movie also just looks bad. One would think that, in a movie where the lead and titular character is a moving collection of computer-generated images, it would be very important to the film’s creators to get it right. But there are multiple scenes in which Dumbo and the other elephants look awful and fake. Dumbo’s interaction with characters, especially when the trapeze artist Colette (Eva Green) rides him, also looks terrible.
And the parts that everyone remembers about the original are gone. “When I See An Elephant Fly” is nowhere to be found, and “Pink Elephants on Parade” is a travesty. There’s no singing, and the remake’s version of the elephant parade is a pale reflection. All of the musicality of the original that made it enjoyable to watch is abandoned in favor of poorly delivered lines and weird side stories. The score of the new version is perfectly serviceable, but it’s either used very sparingly or nearly unnoticeable.
One more thing. This movie is 112 minutes long. The original was 64. To nearly double the film’s length is clearly a terrible idea. There’s just not enough of a story there. Disney could’ve made this movie 90 minutes, saved itself a ton of money (and spent more time on the CGI and maybe on some retakes of Keaton’s lines). Also Tim Burton directed this, I guess? Wouldn’t have known watching the whole damn thing.
Featured Image by Walt Disney Pictures