The Dove Take:
This live-action trip to the big top has got some beauty, banality, and some rough content.
A young elephant, whose oversized ears enable him to fly, helps save a struggling circus. But when the circus plans a new venture, Dumbo and his friends discover dark secrets beneath its shiny veneer.
Tim Burton’s Dumbo jumps from animation to live action, yet loses its emotion on takeoff. Visually, the film’s production is great, but the vacuum of emotion and interest renders the experience more benign than bold. A cotton candy-colored sunset, bubbles floating and flexing into pachyderm proportions, even a trapeze act on a chandelier that could be from Gatsby’s mansion—while worth praising for direction, production, and performance, these effects can only carry everything so far. It’s uncompellingly slower, heavier, and darker than the 1941 film; like a beautiful hot-air balloon with too many needless sandbags.
Dumbo may have appealing aspects, but it’s rather banal—and not simply by comparing it to the older Dumbo. They’re their own films. While this Dumbo emphasizes drama (with more language and dark vibe), the drama is so straightforward it could seem cliché, though seemingly aimed at a more grown-up audience. The heavier and darker elements are unnecessarily abrasive rather than mature. There are some great, and potentially memorable, sequences of circus extravagance, and the story at its core is timeless. But major attention is on less effective or engaging things.
The character and story of Dumbo are wonderful. The question is if this film has our elephant friend flying as high as he could.
There is some content, including a character saying “to H— with it”. Dumbo is Dove-Approved Ages 12+.