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Dumbo Movie Review

A depressing dark live-action remake that barely takes flight.

Thank you to Walt Disney Studios for the invitation to the advanced media screening to facilitate our Dumbo movie review.

Dumbo is the latest live-action remake from Walt Disney Studios, transforming the classic 1941 cartoon from an animal centered endearing movie fit for all ages to a human centered movie where the animals become a supporting character. This is not the 1941 Dumbo we remember.

A cast with beloved actors, CGI that makes the animals feel life like, and music that is both modern and nostalgic at the same time does not have enough emotional investment for the audience to truly fall in love with this remake.

Parents will remember the nostalgia from their childhood and also sharing the classic cartoon with their own children but Tim Burton’s remake is vastly different both in storyline and the overall feeling.

Remaking a classic Disney movie seems to be on par with the recent trend for Disney Studios but not every movie succeeds, nor does it truly need to be remade. Sometimes the classics are better left alone. While Disney expertly captures the innocence and cute factor of Dumbo from the classic cartoon, the rest has changed significantly resulting in a vastly different feel taking it from a family friendly movie fit for all ages and transforming it into a much darker film with more mature problems best designed for older audiences.

Colin Farrell plays Captain Holt Farrier with his children in Dumbo

The movie begins with a train arriving that brings the return of Holt Farrier, played by Colin Farrell, to his children, Milly and Joe. Captain Holt, as he is called, lost much while he was away at war. Not only did he lose his arm, but he also lost his wife.

Dumbo getting a bath

While Holt was gone, the Medici circus family took care of his children but Max Medici, played by Danny DeVito, had to downsize which meant the beloved horses Captain Holt used for his act are now gone. Without his arm, wife, and horses he has virtually no role left at the circus but Max Medici relegates him to be in charge of the elephants. When Dumbo is born his children play a major role in looking after Dumbo.

Dumbo is adorable. His big blue eyes and super long ears should have the circus family accepting his oddity and praising it but they do not. A circus family believes being different and odd is celebrated but even they have a limit on what they will accept. Instead he is a commodity who has no value to anyone, until his unique ability is discovered by the children. Once everyone knows about his gift, Dumbo is seen as an asset and the massive crowds turn the failing circus into a sold out sensation, but one wrong move sends the crowds fleeing for their lives.

Newpaper wonder elephant soars to fame with Michael Keaton as V A Vandevere in Dumbo

All hope is lost until V. A. Vandevere, played by Michael Keaton, arrives and convinces Max Medici to bring his entire circus and partner together at Vandevere’s Dreamland, which is a Disneyland type of amusement park where the impossible becomes possible. It is here we meet Colette Marchant, played by Eva Green, and J. Griffin Remington, played by Alan Arkin. What ensues is naturally a case where the person who says they want to partner with you to help turns out to be a villain and changes everything.

Parade enters Dreamland in Dumbo

The pink elephants are back but the black crows are gone

The psychedelic pink elephant scene all children remember from the cartoon is included as a tribute to the original and is definitely more enjoyable to watch in the remake. The controversial black crows are thankfully not seen in the remake.

Animals do not talk but can fully understand humans, which is just plain weird. Animals take on a very small role, even for the title character. The humans are the entire story which sadly makes Dumbo not take the starring role in his own movie.

The 1941 cartoon was 64 minutes long and you had to wait until the 59 minute mark to actually see Dumbo fly. Thankfully the 2019 version has Dumbo flying so much earlier and is seen flying even more than the cartoon, but Dumbo never really takes off as a live-action movie.

Danny DeVito is Max Medici of the Medici brothers whose failing circus sells out with Dumbo

This is not geared toward young children. At all. The cuteness factor and awe factor of Dumbo is playing on the pocketbooks and betting you will fork over the money for the emotional ties to your childhood but Tim Burton darkened the movie to a point where it is enjoyable but totally inappropriate for young children.

What is enjoyable about the movie is seeing a totally different perspective of circus life and a behind the scenes look at what performers went through personally while on the road to entertain the public. My father was raised in the circus so it felt as if I could look back onto my father’s childhood and see some of the stories he told me come to life. Our family has also been able to witness the elephant walk and spent time getting to know the clowns from the circus. These add to the enjoyable moments, which are not many.

Dumbo with his circus family

Circus life is hard and this is definitely shown and felt as we witness how they interact with each other and the animals. While humans have a choice to perform, the animals do not. Naturally during this time period the treatment of the animals is severe, which is disturbing and heartbreaking. They may just be computer generated images, but they are still disturbing images to witness. Seeing a baby taken from his mother is never good entertainment; however it goes naturally with this reoccurring theme through many of Disney’s movies. It is also odd to see a grown woman forcing a baby elephant to fly with her riding on him.

Dumbo gives a ride to Colette Marchant played by Eva Green

“Kids don’t need you to be perfect. They just need you to believe in them.” This memorable line from the movie comes when Colette is speaking to Captain Holt after disappointing his children once again. Not only did they lose their mother but their father is distant and has no idea how to parent them. Colette’s line is an important reminder for parents.

One thing the movie does do in the end is to take a very political stance. (Spoiler alert). At the end of the film, Danny DeVito’s character declares animals should not be behind bars and meant to entertain people so they let the animals go and the circus transforms yet again. Watching a particularly emotional scene with animals returned to their natural environment was a good way to end a depressing and dark movie making it the only reason why the movie is not completely lost but the last two minutes of the movie cannot redeem the pain of watching everything else unfold.

Despite Dumbo’s endearing ears and Danny DeVito’s amazing performance, they cannot save this depressing dark live-action remake that barely takes flight.

Dumbo with Mrs. Jumbo's trunk around him

Parental Advisory (SPOILER ALERT)

This is not the Dumbo you remember. If I took my children when they were toddlers to see this movie I would have walked out during the film, which I have never done.

There are four scenes where fire is used, placing Dumbo and humans in direct threat. Sure other movies have included similar scenes but the feeling of being trapped by fire with no way to escape is suffocating and I can only imagine what toddlers will think of these scenes. They are scary and lengthy.

There are multiple scenes of mocking and bullying toward people and animals. In the cast list the bullies are labeled as hecklers and mean teens. The people and animals eventually stand up for themselves to fight back against the bullies.

An elephant goes wild inside the circus tent, sending the audience and workers fleeing for safety. One person is killed in the process.

The animals are treated poorly due to the time period it is set in. Elephants are whipped. Mrs. Jumbo is literally pushed out of her train car, as she fights and protests but ultimately leaves due to the brutality she suffered. Only then do they realize the reason for her behavior, as we meet Dumbo for the first time. Later she is shipped off and separated from her baby. She is chained and lives life in a small cage. It is heartbreaking to see the treatment of the animals, even if they are computer generated.

Nightmare Island. Two words that mean exactly what it says: animals behind bars that will supposedly give you nightmares. The scenes are brief but are the classic style of circus entertainment.

This movie is not one we plan to watch again or purchase for our home movie collection, even as devoted Disney fans. My boys liked the movie and enjoyed the experience of seeing it but one does not want to watch it again while the other one may want to eventually see it again.

As always, if you are in doubt whether to take your child, go see the movie first to make your own decision that is best for your children and your family.

Dumbo is rated PG for peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief mild language.

Dumbo Movie Review by Kids

Be sure to watch the movie review by our Plugged In Kids below.

[quote]From Disney and visionary director Tim Burton, the all-new grand live-action adventure “Dumbo” expands on the beloved classic story where differences are celebrated, family is cherished and dreams take flight. Circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) enlists former star Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) and his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) to care for a newborn elephant whose oversized ears make him a laughingstock in an already struggling circus. But when they discover that Dumbo can fly, the circus makes an incredible comeback, attracting persuasive entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who recruits the peculiar pachyderm for his newest, larger-than-life entertainment venture, Dreamland. Dumbo soars to new heights alongside a charming and spectacular aerial artist, Colette Marchant (Eva Green), until Holt learns that beneath its shiny veneer, Dreamland is full of dark secrets.[/quote]

Dumbo | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

  • Release Date: March 29, 2019
  • Release to DVD: June 25, 2019
  • Format: 3D and 2D
  • Rating: PG
  • Run Time: 1 hour 52 minutes
  • Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Finley Hobbins, Nico Parker
  • Director: Tim Burton
  • Producers: Justin Springer, Ehren Kruger, Katterli Frauenfelder, Derek Frey
  • Executive Producer: Nigel Gostelow
  • Screenplay: Ehren Kruger
  • Studio: Walt Disney Studios

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Photos provided by Walt Disney Studios. Used with permission.

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Wendy Wright

Head Geek at Plugged In Family often found at Comicon, Disneyland, or online increasing her gamer score on Xbox. As a member of the 501st Legion, Wendy spreads her love of Star Wars across the Galaxy in her handmade Jawa costume volunteering for charities with her husband and two sons.

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