Movie Review: DUMBO (2019)

DUMBO, the latest live-action film from Walt Disney Studios, takes the familiar and beloved story of the infamous flying elephant and gives it a brand-new adaptation that is both heartwarming and topical. The film, which is directed by Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), stars Colin Farrell (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Michael Keaton (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Danny DeVito (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Eva Green (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), Finley Hobbins, and Nino Parker.  

Circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) enlists former star Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) and his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) to care for a newborn elephant whose oversized ears make him a laughingstock in an already struggling circus. But when they discover that Dumbo can fly, the circus makes an incredible comeback, attracting persuasive entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who recruits the peculiar pachyderm for his newest, larger-than-life entertainment venture, Dreamland. Dumbo soars to new heights alongside a charming and spectacular aerial artist, Colette Marchant (Eva Green), until Holt learns that beneath its shiny veneer, Dreamland is full of dark secrets.

I think it’s important to start by saying I’m not the biggest DUMBO fan and it’s been many decades since I revisited the film. I do think that this worked to my advantage when it came time to see this new film because I didn’t have to worry about the incessant need to compare and contrast. That said, there are certain scenes that still resonate from the animated film which I was happy to see in this new version. Even though I remember the 1941 film having some dark tones, I wasn’t expecting just how dark the 2019 film was going to get. Furthermore, I was surprised that there was even a scene that seemed to be ripped straight out of a haunted house! With that said, I think horror fans are going to have a lot more fun with DUMBO than they originally expected.

After viewing the film, everyone asked if I cried, and apparently I have a cold, dead heart because I didn’t; however, that doesn’t mean you won’t. The beginning of the film definitely deals with a lot of the more heavier themes than the ending does, themes such as loss, animal cruelty, separation, bullying, and more. Without giving anything away, I really enjoyed the parallels between Holt Farrier and Dumbo in regards to the treatment they received. Though no tears were shed, I can say with certainty that it did pull on my heartstrings as it brought me back to a time in my life when bullying was a natural occurrence. Even though some of the earlier scenes were hard to watch on a personal level, I liked that the overall theme was about accepting people for who they are, regardless of any “shortcomings” they have – a lesson that more of us should be following daily.

This leads us into the darker aspects of the film, something that we see more towards the end of the movie after our main characters have arrived at Dreamland. Think of Dreamland as an early 20th century Disneyland with a steampunk vibe to it with a big top smack in the middle. Incorporated into this over-the-top spectacle, run by the nefarious V.A. Vandevere, is an area known as Nightmare Island. Here you will find some of the most ferocious animals known to man all held against their will. It’s heartbreaking to see the animals treated as such, but horror fans will squee with joy when they see the design of the space. It’s ominous and foreboding with each animal designed to look as scary as possible as if to be a mockery of themselves. Going into a Tim Burton film one should expect things to get weird, and though it wasn’t as effective as the 1941 rendition, the presentation of the “Pink Elephants” was show-stopping and one of my favorite scenes.

The only real critique that I have of the film was that I felt the character development was rushed, especially in the case of Colette Marchant, played by Eva Green. The audience isn’t really given a lot of time to watch as these personalities come into their roles resulting in a more abrupt change to their demeanor when the plot shifts. That’s not to say that the performances weren’t great, because they were exceptional. Eva Green is damn near perfect as Colette, Colin Farrell, as Holt Farrier, exudes emotional depth as the war-returning Father, Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins, who play Milly and Joe Farrier, are delightful and intuitive as they navigate the world after experiencing loss, Danny DeVito shines as Max Medici, and Michael Keaton doesn’t disappoint as the villainous V.A. Vandevere. There were just so many storylines I wish we could have been shown more of each of their stories to understand the characters better, but alas, we can’t have everything. As for Dumbo himself, he’s adorable with those big, floppy ears and large blue/green eyes. The CGI used to create him was done exceptionally well and the number of emotions that could be understood by just his facial movements was superb. I think it goes without saying, you’ll be hard-pressed not to fall in love with this little guy.

In all, DUMBO is a film that has a lot of compassion and captures the imaginative spirit along with the more creepier elements. The film as a whole is beautifully crafted with phenomenal production design and dazzling costumes that you wish you could reach out and touch. I think Dumbo is going to find his way into a lot of people’s hearts and rightfully so. In the meantime, I’ll be hoping that someone creates a Nightmare Island (without the use of animal cruelty of course) to satiate my need for all things weird and ghoulish. With that said, make sure to check out DUMBO when it’s released in U.S. theaters Friday, March 29th, 2019.  


Shannon McGrew
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