Tim Burton's remake of Disney's Dumbo is a huge hit at the box office, but the reviews haven't been so kind. Based on the story of a big-eared baby elephant who learns to fly that first came to the big screen in 1941, Dumbo is the latest in a series of live-action remakes of Disney animated classics - from Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast to upcoming releases like Aladdin and Mulan.
Obviously a bit of embellishment is required in order to double the runtime of the original Dumbo, so while Burton's move keeps elements like poor baby Dumbo being separated from his mother and a parade of pink elephants, it also adds a new villain: amusement park owner V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton). On Dumbo' side there's a sympathetic caretaker called Holt (Colin Farrell) and his two children, and a trapeze artist called Colette (Eva Green). However, despite the big budget and adorable CGI Dumbo, not all critics were won over by Burton's take on the story.
Dumbo currently has a score of 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, and the general feeling across both the positive and negative reviews is one of apathy, with critics saying that the movie doesn't have enough of Burton's usual flair or the original film's magic. Here are some of the most brutal reviews of Disney's Dumbo remake:
Dumbo feels totally consistent with Burton’s late-period slump. Abysmally scripted and hammily acted – and not, for the most part, in an interesting or ironic way... Dumbo offers little in the way of invention, novelty or anything beyond the hardened clichés of family movie schmaltz.
A flightless pachyderm of a film that saddles itself with 21st-century shame at the idea of circus animals, overcomplicating the first movie, losing the directness, abandoning the lethal pathos, mislaying the songs and finally getting marooned in some sort of steampunk Jurassic Park, jam-packed with retro-futurist boredom that had the kids at the performance I attended talking among themselves.
Burton and his collaborators took the beautiful and moving Dumbo and somehow managed to turn it into a throwaway kiddie adventure like Gus or Million Dollar Duck... With about an hour or so of material, then, Burton and [screenwriter Ehren] Kruger make the original movie’s big finale their act-one climax. And from there, they’ve come up with nowhere interesting to go.
This is another frustratingly uneven picture, with thin characters — human and animal — that fail to exert much of a hold, reclaiming the story only toward the end. Up to then, the filmmaker's overstuffed visual imagination and appetite for sinister gloom all but trample the enchantment of a tale that, at heart, is simple and whimsical.
The self-cannibalization at Disney continues with Dumbo, a turgid, labored, bloated live-action remake of the 1941 animated classic with precisely none of the original’s emotion, charm, or joy. Why do these things that are obviously bad ideas to begin with keep turning out so bad? It is a mystery.
Dumbo and his mother both look like wide-eyed JPEGs. Neither are quite real enough to trend into the uncanny valley, but they also aren’t real enough to elicit convincing reactions from their talented human costars, who spend the film struggling to act as though they’re engaging with all the green screen elements that surround them. When riding the flying pachyderm, Eva Green looks like she’s holding onto a gymnast’s sawhorse for dear life.
Related: Read Screen Rant's Review of Dumbo
While Dumbo hasn't attracted many outright rave reviews, some critics felt more kindly towards Burton's big-eared CGI elephant and the story he inhabits. Here are some of the nicer things that reviewers had to say about Disney's Dumbo remake:
Purists can quibble, of course, about the need to mine the Disney vaults in this manner, but doing so ignores the prevailing tides in an entertainment industry built around exploiting established intellectual property. Allowing that movies like Dumbo are inevitable, this feels like a genuine overachiever -- a film that doesn't always soar but flies higher, and more gracefully, than it honestly had any right to given the level of difficulty involved.
Burton has made a movie that does Disney proud, honoring the simple appeal of the source material while finding new emotional resonance in the narrative... The new story is decidedly, deliciously dark, veined with thin layers of Burton’s trademark macabre sensibility, which adds texture and tartness to the inherent charm of the story.
It’s not quite twice as long as the 64-minute original, and Burton fills the extra time with colorful, eye-popping visuals that serve a multilayered and very moving story... Burton’s command of this material and his masterful visual sense makes this Dumbo an engaging delight. Like that winsome elephant, it really does soar.
Do you think the critics are being too harsh, or is Dumbo one piece of Disney nostalgia that would have been better left alone? Let us know in the comments!