Dumbo Tries its Best
For a lot of people in their twenties, Tim Burton is a very important director. He’s possibly the first director people were about to see a creative through line in his work.
People who spend thousands of dollars on a film degree call this an Auteur.
That’s why no matter what slop Burton makes there will be an audience for it. Lots of people are waiting to see his return to form. Unfortunately, “Dumbo” isn’t exactly that but it is a step in the right direction.
Burton’s comfortable wheelhouse is when he is making films about the outcasts and the misfits of the world, and he very wisely characterizes Dumbo as exactly that. Our titular character isn’t the only misfit we follow as the film is arguably more interested in Holt Farrier, played by Colin Farrell, and Farrier’s two children. Their performances range from sometimes over the top in Farrell’s case and woefully underwritten and underperformed for the two children.
If there is a thesis to this movie it is coming to terms with your disability, or more aptly acknowledging our differences and growing with them. Colin Farrell’s character comes back from WWI missing an arm and the film takes great pains to show you that the world does not look at him the same. The film uses the same visual language when people see Dumbo for the first time, and whether we recognize it at the time or not it really works on an emotional level.
The story takes a turn when Michael Keaton’s character shows up. He looks like a certain animator from the 30s that might be known for creating a certain mouse. He comes to the modest circus and gives promises of grandeur to the ring leader, wonderfully played by Danny Devito, saying things like “the people will come to you and not the other way around.” This is a pretty thinly veiled Netflix vs traditional theatre experience metaphor that works fairly well.
That theme, and the movie in general, really lose steam towards the end. Keaton’s performance gets VERY big in the final act and it’s not going to work for everyone. We also see for the third time Dumbo fall off something tall and at the last second he takes off. By this time, you know exactly what’s going to happen and it’s not a surprise anymore.
This movie could have been a lot worse so the fact that this isn’t egregiously awful should be celebrated. Certainly not a glowing review but an apt one.