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Dumbo (2019)  

Review: written April 2019

Fails to take flight

There’s a moment at the end of the movie, as the titles start, that a modern remake of the ‘Baby, Mine’ song from the original Dumbo plays. It seems to me that moment encapsulated all that is wrong with this movie. It’s a bombastic showpiece in grand style, and loses all the charm of what was a simple and intimate lullaby from a mother to her child. The movie does that same thing – Tim Burton has created a showpiece of colours and his trademark darkness, swooping cameras and directorial flourishes that squanders the simplicity of the original story.

The movie starts with a circus on the move, in 1918, post Great War. Colin Farrell has come back from the war to Danny DeVito’s travelling circus, which has seen better days. As he reunites with his two children who are mourning the loss of their mother to influenza, his previous act is no more, so he gets to look after the circus’s new acquisition, an Asian elephant. This elephant gives birth, to a young elephant with abnormally large ears. Of course an abnormal elephant is no use to the circus.. unless it has some hidden talents..? This plot is then taken over by a larger story with Michael Keaton coming on like a male Cruella DeVille parody, owner of a large (Disney-esque..?) theme park who wants Dumbo as his star performer.

Michael Keaton is having an outrageous time, Eva Green registers well in her underwritten role, but the two lead children don’t convince, as cute as they look. The young Nico Parker occasionally does look uncannily like her mum, Thandie Newton. Overall, it just all feels a bit busy, with too much activity and set pieces and not enough tender moments.. though there are a few. To wrap this all up, at the end coda there is a moment of political correctness which set out to atone for having the audacity to set the movie in a circus, which feels so at odds with what has gone before that any spell the movie may have had over you is broken. It’s not terrible, just a terrible disappointment.

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