Dark and Scary
Alan Arkin said it all in his last scene in Dumbo: “It’s a disaster!” Mean-spirited, dark and scary, director Tim Burton’s desecration of the classic flying elephant story seems more like a horror picture than the whimsical tale it should be. Burton has turned the original 64-minute cartoon made in 1941 into a bloated 114-minute excursion into a theme park nightmare.
Danny DeVito plays Max Medici, owner of a small circus to which Colin Farrell returns after World War I. Colin, as Holt Ferrier, used to wrangle the horses before the war. But he has returned with one less arm. That image alone will scare children in the audience. It is not the norm for the film’s children -- played by a sullen Nico Parker and an ebullient Finley Hobbins -- to see their daddy without two arms to hug them. Holt is re-assigned to take care of the elephants. He ends up shoveling up after them, and that’s what this film feels like most of the time. Mrs. Jumbo gives birth to Dumbo, and the kids fall in love with the big-eared pachyderm.
DeVito, who is tinier than one of his circus little people, has a big personality and boasts two acting volumes: loud and louder. He could win all the accolades from the Ham Actors Association and the Prosciutto Award for Best Over-the-Top Acting. He cares about all the misfits in the troupe. DeVito usually plays loveable characters, and he is also a good chap in this film. Financially in trouble, he falls for the baloney charlatan businessman V.A. Vandevere, played by snarling Michael Keaton, doing his best impression of a silent movie villain. In some scenes, the director and cameraman have taken pity on the actor by filming him either in the dark or through a slab of inch-thick marble filters. Keaton, as the blustering villain, harbors only evil intent and wants to steal away the flying Dumbo for his devilish theme park, Horrorland, or some such place.
Screenwriter Ehren Kruger doesn’t do much to develop personalities for the characters. The character played by Eva Green comes closest to anyone revealing humanity here. She portrays Colette, the French aerial artist, who shows compassion for the kids and little Dumbo.
The movie is a huge disappointment and so overblown it collapses under its own hot air. However, the production design by Rick Heinrichs, set decoration by John Bush and Cosmo Sarson, and costume design by Colleen Atwood are all noteworthy and deserve kudos.
Loveable Dumbo deserves better than this. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend the 2019 version for children.
(Released by Walt Disney Pictures and rated “PG” for peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief mild language)