The occasional stumble out of the starting gate happens to the best of us…
It feels like 2019 is going to be heavy on the remakes, and while that’s not always a bad thing it can cause the occasional misstep. The new version of Dumbo which is now in theatres is quite honestly a very delightful affair in the hands of one Tim Burton but it takes a minute to get going as the Burton-esque hijinks aren’t immediately in full effect at the start of this story.
Circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) enlists former star Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) and his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) to care for a newborn elephant whose oversized ears make him a laughingstock in an already struggling circus. But when they discover that Dumbo can fly, the circus makes an incredible comeback, attracting persuasive entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who recruits the peculiar pachyderm for his newest, larger-than-life entertainment venture, Dreamland. Dumbo soars to new heights alongside a charming and spectacular aerial artist, Colette Marchant (Eva Green), until Holt learns that beneath its shiny veneer, Dreamland is full of dark secrets.
Once Dumbo goes full on Tim Burton around the second act of the film it is a whip smart, amazing looking affair that actually pokes a little bit of fun at not only the industry of show business itself but it’s also a sly little nod to showmen of years gone by like P.T. Barnum and even Walt Disney but not in the most flattering of ways.
There’s quite obviously no doubting the visual esthetic of the film from top to bottom as it is a dynamic affair that unquestionably pops in concert with a great musical score from frequent Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman, not to mention some great costume and production design with cinematography by Ed Davis which really gave the film a very expansive and larger than life feel to it.
That being said with the source material of the original film (and novel before it) clocking in at a lean mean 64 minutes and this live action affair nearly doubling that running time, there’s going to be a lot of padding in the narrative that audiences might not be used to, most of which happens in the first act of the film as it establishes the characters and the strife that can be felt in the circus business of the time. Certainly not saying it wasn’t necessary but it all felt a little out of place tonally and could have used a bit of trimming from writer Ehren Kruger.
The characters were somewhat compelling but we never really get all that invested in any of them. Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins were solid as the young Farrier kids but were never given the chance to draw our attention. Colin Farrell just felt a little muted and isn’t that good at playing a good guy with very few dimensions to it. As an actor he’s better with more shades of grey about it him without a doubt. Danny Devito was fun as circus owner Max Medici but it also wasn’t something that we haven’t seen from him before while Eva Green was fine as the sexy but one dimensional Collette.
Only Michael Keaton as V.A. Vandevere felt like he was in his Tim Burton element playing the smarmy entertainment entrepreneur who cares more about the bottom line then the happiness of his works and his customers. I’m sure it’ll be denied, but it all plays like an evil wink and a nod to some of the larger than life entertainment moguls of the early 20th century, including Walt Disney himself.
Ultimately, there’s a fun Tim Burton movie inside Dumbo and it’s more than worth seeing, but it takes about 1/3rd of the movie before we really find it.