Release Date: June 25, 2019
Cast: Colin Ferrell, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton, Eva Green
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Extra Feature Rating: ★★★★★
Review Spoilers: Low
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Disney’s latest live action adaptation, Dumbo, is an odd duck. The animated film about a flying elephant was already an unusual choice to join Disney’s growing ranks of generally enjoyable remakes. Like the other films Dumbo offers a reimagined look at familiar story and takes on a predictable journey with a few new twists. Dumbo, however, also throws in Tim Burton and a decidedly diluted Burton-esque ambiance that makes this take on Dumbo’s story feel darker and somewhat stranger.
The new Dumbo is hard to review in part because it is so odd. The overall plot is arguably the weakest part of the film as it’s a very slow burn. My five year old’s interest waned within the first few minutes when we’re introduced to Colin Ferrell’s war wounded Holt and his children rather than the flying elephant I had promised. It didn’t get much better from there – at least from her perspective.
Personally, I enjoyed Holt and the kids’ contribution to the story. I liked the larger family theme that played throughout the film as it related not just to them but ring leader Danny DeVito and the rest of the Medici circus. The strongest part of the film as easily the phenomenal ensemble cast which oddly reunites Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito some twenty-odd years after Batman Returns. Michael Keaton is a perfect, obsessive villain and a true foil to the rest of the characters’ hopes and dreams.
Oddly enough the CGI, more realistic baby Dumbo was not as compelling of a character as I had hoped. And it really didn’t help that his story unfolded so slowly. He’s narrative shone most when it was framed through the human characters around him rather than when it relied on Dumbo’s reactions to the events unfolding. But over all I will say that when you stick it out the overall plot – and especially the ending for Dumbo and his mother – are much more heartwarming and positive than even the animated film which still saw Dumbo as a circus star at the end.
Dumbo is a hard movie to review because over all it was a strange, slow journey but there are a lot of things to love. I am generally not a Tim Burton fan this seemed almost like Burton-lite. It captured the things I do enjoy about Burton films like the strange, fantastical edge that seems omnipresent and the fantastic casting which helped draw me into the story more.
Now, for those folks looking to check out the blu-ray release, let’s talk special features. Dumbo has a fair number of great featurettes. They do a great job of exploring how the film came together and it’s incredible how they pulled it all together. I certainly appreciated the film more after watching them.
Dreamland – Anatomy of a Scene is only three minutes long but it’s pretty cool. Dreamland is one of the coolest parts of the film and honestly I was rooting for Vandevere’s dream to succeed. (Sorry, Mrs. Jumbo.) This particular featurette focuses on the opening parade scene into Dreamland which Tim Burton describes as “big and weird and colorful.” It’s cool to see how it came together and astounding that they managed to get six hundred people together for it!
Circus Spectaculars is a great featurette, too, but don’t make the mistake in thinking it focuses solely on the various performers that fill in the background of the film. Now, a lot of it is. They talk a lot about the dozens upon dozens of international talents – acrobats, contortionists, clowns and more – who were called in for the film. But it’s also a traditional behind-the-scenes film in many ways which was really nice. (Plus you get to see Colin Ferrell in his green sleeve riding horses and stuff!) Paired with Built to Amaze, which talks a lot about the set design, costuming, and general look and feel of the film, you’ll get a real sense of how the film came together.
Meanwhile, The Elephant in the Room is the film’s obligatory throwback to the original film as well as a behind-the-scenes look at how Dumbo’s character came to life.
The bonus features also include nine deleted scenes, a blooper real, a music video, and an Easter egg spotlight which is tons of fun to watch. (I really ought to have rewatched the original film before I watched this one because maybe I would have caught on to more of the hidden references!)
Dumbo definitely is worth checking out if you’re interested or a fan of Tim Burton’s other work. But it may be better suited for viewing with older kids if you’re thinking about picking it up for a family movie night. (Or wait another month and make it a night out and see Lion King when it hits theatres.) It’s a weird movie – there’s no getting around that – but I enjoyed it for a lot of reasons. And the special features really bring it all home.