There’s a reason we don’t review too many kids’ movies, even if we happen to see them: they aren’t really for us. A few weeks ago, I saw the animated adventure film Wonder Park but didn’t get around to a formal review (other than on the Cinema Clash podcast) because it was just okay. Fine for kids, tolerable for the adults who accompany them. Dumbo has the potential to appeal to a much larger audience of family filmgoers because it’s a live-action remake of a 1941 Disney animated classic, it’s directed by twisted fairy tale auteur Tim Burton, and it’s got some high-profile cast members including Danny DeVito, Colin Ferrell, Michael Keaton, Eva Green and Alan Arkin. But ultimately, much like Wonder Park, this new Dumbo is just okay and has some dark elements that could be scary for the wee ones.
The heart of the story remains much the same: Mamma Jumbo gives birth to a baby elephant that has unusually large ears; he is mocked and called “Dumbo”; Mamma gets a bit over-protective and ends up getting separated from Dumbo; and Dumbo’s life changes forever when he discovers that his large ears allow him to fly, with the aid of a ‘magic’ feather. Some of the original characters are absent from this reimagining, most notably Timothy Q. Mouse and the flock of crows that taught the classic Dumbo to fly. In this version, a CGI Dumbo interacts with an array of circus owners and performers as well as two children – Millie and Joe – who vow to help Dumbo reunite with his Momma.
The kids, played by Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins, are the weakest link in the film. Their acting is way too flat for the colorful, larger than life visuals dominating the screen. It doesn’t help that they’re put up against a slew of veteran actors well-versed in playing both campy and dramatic. It’s a missed opportunity in casting, but young filmgoers probably won’t notice. They’ll be too busy cheering on the elephant with the big floppy ears. Fly, Dumbo, Fly! The movie’s not a dud, but I certainly don’t expect it to reach the classic status of the original or the top tier of Tim Burton titles.
For more perspective on Dumbo, check out this ‘Take 5’ edition of The Cinema Clash!