As part of Disney Film Studios' path to taking over the world this year, with numerous films scheduled for release in the coming months, Dumbo is the studio's first mediocre step in this path for 2019.
This Tim Burton (Big Eyes, 2014) film is adapted from the animated Dumbo film released in 1941 during the golden age of Disney animated filmmaking. Dumbo was only the fourth animated feature film Walt Disney ever produced, after the historic feats of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), Pinnochio (1940), and Fantasia (1940).
This live-action Dumbo is a nice surprise because it doesn't simply tell the same story we already know with more visually rich window dressing. We've seen that done before with the mundane Cinderella adaptation (2015) and the emotionally drab Beauty and the Beast (2017). Dumbo starts off with the awkward baby elephant born with oversized ears who learns to believe in himself and use his ears to fly. But the film explores this endearing underdog tale further by introducing a greedy capitalist (a pin-striped Michael Keaton, The Founder, 2016) who takes Dumbo and his gang to Coney Island for fame and fortune. This film works hard to keep its characters, settings, and storyline rooted in real life (and not capricious fantasy) through the screenplay including issues of economic uncertainty and the wounds left from the first world war.
While the film is packed with dazzling art deco design, and nostalgic nods to the beloved songs from the 1941 original, none of the characters are well-developed (except maybe new actress Nico Parker who plays a precocious young girl who bonds with the elephant), nothing in the plot is unexpected, and nothing feels special. A few moments of excitement are sprinkled here and there, but not many.
Dumbo is a nice flicker of light in Disney's multi-year campaign of live-action adaptations from their animated classics but it doesn't quite reach the status of a bright shining star.