“Dumbo,” the latest Disney film to receive a live-action makeover, hits theaters this past Friday. Directed by Tim Burton, the movie follows the journey of Dumbo, a baby elephant whose massive ears ultimately prove to be pretty useful wings.
The magic of the adorable, flying elephant translates well from the original 1941 cartoon musical to live action, and applause filled the theater each time Dumbo flew as the triumphant soundtrack swelled in the background.
The heart of the original classic, Mama Jumbo’s love for her son, still beats strongly throughout. The iconic “Baby Mine” scene is a guaranteed tear-jerker.
Burton’s signature dark, whimsical directorial style fit the circus settings of the film well.
From the pink elephant-shaped bubbles floating in the purple circus lights to Dreamland, a mechanical amusement park right out of the 21st century, the imagination of Tim Burton shines throughout the entire run time.
Sadly, the pretty visuals couldn’t distract from the lack of both character development and plot. The remake introduces audiences to the Farrier family: Holt, portrayed by Colin Farrell, a father who just returned to his former circus job after serving in World War I, and his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins).
While Farrell delivers a solid performance and the children have a few touching scenes with both Dumbo and their dad, it’s hard to overlook the glaring elephant in the room — this family replaces the original film’s Timothy Mouse, Dumbo’s friend, coach and the only person who truly believed in the little elephant. The script doesn’t allow the Farriers to show why their addition to Dumbo’s story is necessary.
Michael Keaton’s talent was also underutilized as the Willy-Wonka-esque villain, Vandemere, whose only motivation is greed. His character is never developed or even given a compelling reason behind his insatiable appetite for success, and he’s simply thrust in halfway through to drive the slumping plot forward. Danny DeVito gives a humorous and well-done performance as struggling circus owner Max Medici, but even his character falls a bit flat.
The true problem of the film lies in what isn’t shown on screen. There are too few moments of teamwork, familial love or backstory to earn much concern or care from viewers. Mentions of Holt Farrier’s deceased wife and the moments where he struggles to bond with his children don’t quite meet their mark (both of which occur very early on in the film and aren’t mentioned nearly at all for the rest of the movie).
Overall, Dumbo feels like cotton candy — pretty to look at and sweet to consume but doesn’t offer much substance or anything beyond a mediocre treat packed with too much sugar to leave audiences feeling very well.