Film review: Dumbo takes off but fails to reach heights of charming predecessor

Florida, 1919. Having lost an arm in the First World War, Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns to Max Medici’s (Danny DeVito) struggling circus, alongside everybody’s favourite elephant, with his big ocean blue eyes and lovably floppy ears.

Thursday, 4th April 2019, 11:25 am
Updated Thursday, 4th April 2019, 11:29 am

However, when the circus plans a new venture, Dumbo and his friends discover dark secrets lurk beneath its shiny veneer.

The premise had me hooked when I fist saw the trailer back in November. Unfortunately, Tim Burton’s reincarnation of 1941`s much loved Disney classic is a sentimental but emotionally vacant live action imitation.

Taken from a tale by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, we all know the story of the young circus elephant that makes friends with a mouse to achieve his full potential after being ridiculed for having enormous ears: the ugly duckling that becomes a swan in flight.

That was packed with charm, warmth and heartache. This offering is pretty dull, and, while Dumbo does fly, the movie certainly doesn’t soar.

After watching him fly around the circus for the tenth time it got pretty tiresome. So much so, the children sitting around me decided to talk amongst themselves.

I really wasn’t expecting this to be a negative review. After all, Disney had been on a roll with its live-action adaptations – “Cinderella”, “The Jungle Book” and “Beauty and the Beast” raked in more than $2 billion and were all thoroughly enjoyable. This is a clunker earmarked for disaster. When you think of Tim Burton you think of visual flair and eccentricity. Where is that here?

A hit Burton film is almost always built around an irresistible personality. Unfortunately, CGI elephant aside, “Dumbo” doesn’t contain a single character that hooks us emotionally.

Bar DeVito (completing the trilogy of ringmasters he started in “Batman Returns” and continued in “Big Fish”) the cast are all hideously underwritten, while the performances border on pantomime. Half of them seem to be asleep on screen.

The heart and spirit of the original appears to be locked firmly away in the Disney vault. This is more “Planet of the Apes” than “Beetlejuice” and that’s wholly disappointing because this could have been great.

A heavyweight cast of Farrell, DeVito, Michael Keaton and Eva Green coupled with a runtime here that is double that of the original cartoon.

Burton and screenwriter Ehren Kruger couldn’t have asked for more scope to expand and develop.

Shame then that they chose to pad this out by replacing the talking animals with uninteresting human characters, totally removing the sense of wonder, as the pointlessly complicated and drawn-out story dragged on to its tiresome and forgettable conclusion – Alan Arkin`s bafflingly lazy performance as a banker had me give up on the plot long before the end.

No Timothy Q. Mouse but they do have Michael Buffer bellow "Let's get ready for Dumbo!” instead of his trademark line "Let's get ready to rumble!". I know we are at the beginning of April, but that is not a joke.

With its brutal capitalists and widowed war veteran the whole picture feels overly sadistic. It’s a shame because, to me, that just isn’t “Dumbo”.

Given that Burton is the unofficial king of the weird, Gothic blockbuster that doesn’t totally surprise, but it hugely disappoints nonetheless. It’s twice as long with half the heart.

Oh well, at least Disney will sell plenty of toy elephants.