Tim Burton's 'Dumbo' (2019) Movie Review
Perspective Is Important
I feel that it is important for if someone comes across my review of this film that they receive at least a little insight as to what my perspective was going in so the reader can have a better idea as to how I maybe came to my ultimate conclusion of it in the end. With that said, I apologize in advanced because there is a lot of perspective to establish before I get to the point. Whoopsies.
Burton, Tim Burton.
Tim Burton, who in the world doesn’t know the name of this very talented director? Burton himself has directed some of my all-time favorite films; such as Ed Wood, Beetlejuice, and of course ’89 Batman! For the most part, I adore Burton’s work. I wouldn’t say that everything that this man has touches turns out to be an instant masterpiece by any means, but in these last ten years of his directorial career it particularly seems that he has released a few more misses than hits unfortunately. Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children were all duds in my opinion. Granted, there were a couple of successes under his belt with his remake of his own short film, Frankenweenie. Also, I did actually enjoy Big Eyes, even with its flaws. Mostly though, as of late, he’s a director that seems to have fallen out of his own groove. Regardless, I still always look forward to seeing what dark and quirky tale he has in-store for us next.
The Original Dumbo
1941’s animated classic, Dumbo, is my absolute favorite animated Disney film. Hands down. No competition. Seriously, in terms of animation and simply film in general, it comes to as close to being a perfect film as humanly possible in my eyes. The craftsmanship put into the animation is gorgeous, the sheer emotional weight seen in its writing and visuals are unparalleled by any other, the pacing is brisk yet takes its time in all the right moments, it is a beautifully pure story about a child and the love shared between him and his mother, the tone ranges from cheerful to heartbreaking to even terrifying. Dumbo is one of the most optimistically made movies that I have ever seen. It is a work of art that I am always in a terrific mood to revisit. I love the film completely from beginning to end. Even the racist crows… I’m sorry, I have a soft spot for vaguely dated social themes in older animated flicks like seen with the Jim Crows. I find it funny.
Oh, before anyone flies off the handle about my remarks, no I don’t endorse the Jim Crow Laws or segregation in any way shape or form. I simply find it funny that a Disney cartoon contained a reference to something that is such a heavy subject matter with such a light and whimsical tone on top of it. Makes me laugh is all.
The Remake Train
One would think that because I hold the original animation so close to my heart and the fact that I, thus far, had not been the biggest fan of this recent boom of Disney ‘live-action’ remakes; it’d be very easy to assume that I wasn’t looking forward to the remake of Dumbo. On the contrary, I was honestly rather excited to see this live-action interpretation of my favorite Disney cartoon. From what I gathered in the trailers, it seemed that Tim Burton had a firm grasp on the original’s spirit while also providing his own fresh take on the material rather than attempting to replicate it. Giving me the impression that 2019’s Dumbo was going to be far more ambitious in its story than what has been seen in the Disney remake assembly line previously. The visual aesthetic looks marvelous, the cast is solid, and Dumbo himself is amazingly as adorable as he was in the animated picture. I was really looking forward in checking out Tim Burton’s Dumbo!
Walking away from this year’s Dumbo remake, a few words came to my mind; irritation, disappointment, and wasted opportunities are the words that I mainly came away with here. Truth be told, when the credits rolled, I was pretty annoyed. Hours afterward, I was downright pissed. The more time that passed since my viewing of Burton’s Dumbo, the more agitated I became towards it. Everything that I had mentioned above did hold true surprisingly; the narrative is ambitious, the visuals are marvelous, the cast is mostly solid, and Dumbo is cute. The real problems resided in what wasn’t revealed in the marketing; hidden deal breakers that are present throughout the whole God damn movie were barely seen in any trailer for the remake. Oddly enough there aren’t many issues I have with this remake, but the few that I do are so glaringly awful that it ruined my entire experience.
A brand new baby elephant makes it way into the world with a lasting impression as he was gifted with oversized ears that enable him to fly. This astonishing gift helps a struggling circus recover and move onto a new venture to work with an even bigger amusement park that wants this baby elephant in their act. In the middle of all this, Dumbo is separated from his mother and he must find a way to reunite with her once again. With the help of this circus family, they discover that this big amusement park holds dark motives underneath its joyous exterior.
These Two Soulless Robots
I’m not going to beat around the bush any longer, I’m coming right out and saying it. These two child actors are what truly killed the film for me. These are some of the worst child actors that I have seen in a while. They have no soul. They are lifeless and total dead zones of acting. These little things masquerading as children were clearly manufactured in some laboratory somewhere and these cyborgs escaped, finding refuge in Hollywood where Tim Burton hired them on for their very first acting gigs. They were terrible. Every line delivery from the girl was completely wooden and emotionless, then the boy was a generic sitcom kid who was overly excited over every single thing that happens in the movie. And no I do not care what their actual names are, they are Girl Robot and Boy Robot. Most of the time I wasn’t sure which was the CGI creation; the dead-eyed, hollow, pale shells with zero acting chops or the adorable baby elephant with hugely heartwarming facial expressions. I know what I’m betting on.
Every time this girl thing had to read a line it was as though her soul was totally sucked out of her body and we were left with nothing except her hollow shell of skin flab to rely on for a performance. It doesn’t matter if a scene centered on joyous occasions, terrifyingly dire circumstances, or heartbreaking sadness; there was only one expression on this girl’s face, dead on the inside. Seriously, this little actress gave me nothing to work with here. It was as though she was completely bored on set and it showed immensely in camera. The most emoting I could find out of this girl robot’s performance is a half-give-a-crap smile and her looking tired in scenes she’s supposed to be sad. Outside from that, she’s obviously a Terminator. Someone go warn John Connor that he’s in danger again.
When he’s not jumping in joy over the dumbest sh*t, he too is an emotionless zombie like his onscreen sister. Every time he started cheering over something happening, anything happening, I expected him to finally yell out a Jake Lloyd “Yippee” and I would have immediately bought my plane ticket to his hometown so I could punch that kid in the face. I could not stand this little bastard, Boy Robot annoyed me to no end with his constant celebratory jumping and cheering. Stupid little f*cker. I guess at least he had an emotion, unlike Girl Robot with no emotion at all. Too bad that Boy Robot performed that emotion in the most annoying way possible for the entire runtime.
It would be one thing if these kids were secondary characters with very minimal screen time dedicated to them. Sadly, that isn’t the case here. These two are basically the stars of the picture and the movie as a whole suffers because of them. If the focus was set on anyone else this could have worked fine. The ideal choice would, of course, be Dumbo for the lead. Although I can understand as to why that may be difficult to stretch his arc out into two hours since the original source material had an extremely condensed one hour length. However, I could easily have seen something working with Colin Farrell’s character being an amputee war veteran that comes back to his home of the circus, discovering that his wife passed away and he must learn to move on while aiding this little baby elephant in reuniting with his mother. Or maybe even something could have been fleshed out with Eva Green’s character, a woman who is the star of this giant amusement circus show has to figure out a way to work with Dumbo for a fresh new act. Amidst all this, her devilish boss practically keeps her captive and the two of them must find a way to fly away so they may break free of their bonds. If one of these characters were centered on drastically, there could have been something there. Instead, they are secondary characters with very little in the way of development; coming across as shallow and generic nobodies.
Because these robo-kids are in 90% of the movie, they ruin 90% of the movie. Every single scene that these two mini-actors are present in, whatever emotion or tone the film is trying desperately to achieve, the kids obliterate it with one look on their faces. Because they are so underwhelming and untrained young actors, every time I am supposed to feel happiness or sadness or fear, I just don’t because the camera cuts back from the action to these two blocks of wood called children that have no facial expression to them at all. A literal dead child would have made for a better actor than these two, at least then I might feel something… Well, that took a morbid turn.
Seriously, there’s a scene where Dumbo is trapped on this fiery death contraption and plummets to what could have possibly been his ultimate doom. Cuts back to Robot Girl’s face and she practically looks like she’s trying to figure out what color shoes she wants to wear that day; a minor inconvenience on her, otherwise, uneventful day. When we reach the third act, Robo-Girl starts talking to her father about how she misses her mother, but she delivers the line as though she just found out that there’s no peanut butter in the pantry so she’s slightly disappointed that she can’t make her favorite PB & J sandwich. The horror. Oh, how will she go on with her life. My word. She sucks!
All these filmmakers had to do was shift the focus onto practically any other character or eliminate the children out entirely. Hell, recast the kids when it becomes fairly apparent that they can’t act. There is no good reason why Tim Burton was stuck with these two little sh*ts. I’m sure in reality they are perfectly fine individuals, onscreen however, they’re nightmares that destroyed a remake that could have been salvageable. I’m not saying that 2019’s Dumbo would have been perfect without these two in the movie, but it would have been a whole lot better. It would have been actually good. To an extent, I understand that maybe I should be a tad more lenient on the two child stars since this is their very first film roles ever. On the other hand; this is a high budget, mainstream, wide-released feature with an all-star cast, and a highly acclaimed director behind the camera. Therefore, I expect more from them.
Moving onto more positive notes; the cinematography, production designs, and special effects are pretty damn gorgeous. Admittedly, there were some effects that stood out as subpar, but the majority were significantly well done. The details on these animals and the art deco environments are truly a a thing of beauty, I really did love the art direction of this film. As I usually do with most of Burton’s productions, he’s always had a wonderfully artistic vision that normally shows well in the camera. From a technical standpoint, this film looks fantastic and can certainly please the eye.
The Pink Elephants Scene
This was something I was immensely looking forward to from the very second it was announced that Tim Burton was directing the Dumbo remake. The Pink Elephants scene from the ’41 feature is one of the most iconic scenes ever put to film. There is no debate on the matter, it simply is one of the most well-known and popular animated sequences ever made. To hear Burton, one of my favorite directors with one of the most uniquely dark and creative visions of our time was actually going to provide his own spin on that very scene, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to see what sights I would behold. Then the 90 second ‘Pink Elephants’ scene happened and I was left with utter disappointment because what we were given was an underwhelming and poorly animated sequence of people blowing bubbles for maybe a minute and a half at best. Wow. I mean. Wow. The images that I had in my mind alone from hearing “Tim Burton’s Pink Elephants” were vastly more breathtaking than anything from what we actually got out of his own film. What a wasted opportunity to give this remake an amazing life and unbelievable spectacle that I know Burton could easily have delivered on, yet somehow it failed miserably.
Another disappointment factor was that of the introduction to “Nightmare Island”, an attraction within the new amusement park that our protagonists come across and infiltrate within the climax. Initially, it holds promise in rectifying the disappointment of a forgettable and bland ‘Pink Elephants’ scene. However, that winds up not being the case as “Nightmare Island” also turns out to be potential that is quickly glossed over before it has a chance to supply any sort of visual wonder. Some neat neon colors is more or less all that we receive from both the Pink Elephants scene and Nightmare Island. Depressing to me since I know there is much more talent behind this crew and there should have been more effort being displayed here. For myself, this was some of the biggest cinematic letdowns of 2019 so far.
Keaton, Michael Keaton.Click thumbnail to view full-size
Thank you, Michael Keaton. Seriously, thank you. Not only are you a true treasure of cinema, you are the reason why I was able to bare through the suffering of these terrible child actors. It still hurt, but Keaton was my Vicodin in this film. Truth be told, I don’t believe I could even describe the type of performance that Michael Keaton gives in Dumbo. All I can say is that he is chewing the scenery and it is quite amazing to watch. Every time he popped up onscreen, I was remarkably delighted to see what exactly he was going to do next. A simple line read from Keaton had me laughing uncontrollably. He was that much fun for me to enjoy during this relatively long sit. If it wasn’t for Keaton’s wild and wacky performance, I honestly don’t think I would have been able to enjoy myself nearly as much, which I was already having a pretty miserable time. Keaton made it a lot better for me. Thank God.
Dumbo, Dumbo Dumbo.Click thumbnail to view full-size
Dumbo is adorable, every scene that specifically pertained to him and his mother only, emotionally gripped me fully. Everything that had to do with the Dumbo character and his plot lines, I was entirely invested in. Even though the child actors ruined most of Dumbo’s scenes, I was still able to engage myself in Dumbo and everything that had to do with him. All it took was a single expression on Dumbo’s face and I was either filled with sheer glee or on the verge of tears. When the Baby Mine songs starts up in the remake, I was still feeling just as much of the emotional weight as I did with the original animation. It is such an emotionally impactful scene that it would be hard to mess up honestly, but when it arrives I was holding back the tears. There is some great stuff here when it comes to Dumbo as a character, however, it’s all material that can be found in the original movie. Granted, it was great seeing this character in a three-dimensional plain, but the movie that surrounded Dumbo did not support him nearly enough or as well as the Disney classic had decades before.
If someone were to ever check this movie out, I could see how one could trick themselves into thinking they liked it. The art direction is beautiful, there are some funny lines and performances scattered throughout, and Dumbo is still one of the most adorable characters ever created. Sadly, that doesn’t mean that it’s actually a good film. Missed opportunities and some of the worst lead child actors of the year bring the Dumbo remake down to dreadful depths. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to ruin a movie, in this flick’s case though, all it took was two bad kid actors that killed it. I could have maybe forgiven the other disappointments I retained from the remake if those two child leads were recast or written out altogether, maybe. As I said above, the story does take a few risks and it is an ambitious remake. There was clearly an attempt to build on top of the Disney classic in hopes to give a fresh and innovative take on this world. The hearts of these filmmakers were in the right place, I believe. The problem was that of the misguided focus being that on the Robo-Twins. Better child actors could have made it at least barrable, wouldn’t change the problems I had with character development or the occasional missteps in the narrative, but it would have gotten me through easier.
On the Dumbo remake’s behalf, I will say though that out of this long conveyer belt of live-action Disney remakes that have been forced out for the last few years, I have at least some respect for this one because it at least had ambition and didn’t simply ‘copy and paste’ the original material. So there is at least that, giving credit where credit is due. If only that made for decent entertainment though. The best live-action remake from recent years is, no doubt, Pete’s Dragon. That was a legitimately solid flick. For the director’s next cinematic venture, all I can say now is that Beetlejuice 2 better be damn good after this, Burton.
Oh, and no Jim Crows? Zero Stars.
Which is your favorite Dumbo?
So which cinematic execution of 'Dumbo' was your favorite?
That’s All Folks…
Tim Burton’s Dumbo, what did you think? Like or dislike? Agree or disagree? Wonder how long it’ll take before Beetlejuice 2 finally makes its way out of pre-production hell? Comment down below and let me know! Also, if you so happened to have enjoyed my review then please do me a favor and share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a better day than mine.
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© 2019 John Plocar