Tim Burton's Dumbo risks becoming a box office bomb because Disney spent too much money on the production budget. This decade, the Mouse House found a goldmine when they decided to do live-action remakes of their most iconic animated titles. The practice began, coincidentally enough, with Burton's Alice in Wonderland reinterpretation, which grossed over $1 billion at the worldwide box office. In the years since, the likes of Maleficent, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, and others all found tremendous success - proving there was a demand for new spins on old classics.
Unsurprisingly, Disney is showing no signs of slowing this train down and have three more live-action remakes coming out this year. The first of that trio, Dumbo, hit theaters over the past weekend. While the film won the box office, its $45 million debut wasn't much to write home about and puts the project in a precarious position as its theatrical run continues. Dumbo is in danger of becoming the rare Disney bomb.
What's holding Dumbo back from becoming profitable is the production budget, which is reportedly $170 million. Going by the general rule of thumb, this means the film needs to make about $340 million globally just to break even. As of this writing, its worldwide total stands at $119.4 million, so it obviously has a long way to go before reaching that mark. If costs were in a more modest ballpark (such as Shazam's $80 million), then Dumbo would likely have gone down as a small, but notable, box office success. Unfortunately, it's in a deep hole that it probably won't be able to climb out of.
First off, Dumbo, like most of Burton's recent outings, didn't score enthusiastic word-of-mouth. Reviews skewed more towards the negative side of the spectrum, with critics feeling the story was shallow (despite the movie being bolstered by Burton's visual flair). With that in mind, the odds of Dumbo having strong legs at the box office are low. The poor reception is coupled with the competition the aforementioned Shazam will provide, meaning Dumbo will most definitely slide down the charts now. Shazam is already Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and has been building up hype and anticipation thanks to a clever marketing campaign. Even if Shazam ends up with the lowest opening weekend in the DCEU, it'll still completely overshadow Dumbo.
Disney is a studio that can afford a misfire every now and then (after all, Avengers: Endgame opens later this month), but they still need to be smart about what they decide to green light moving forward. Perhaps Dumbo underperforming is an indication that not every Disney animated film needs to be remade and this trend has a shelf life (there are only so many other titles that can be revived). There will be a clearer picture on all this later in the year; The Lion King feels like a surefire thing, but Aladdin has been hit with bad buzz during the homestretch of its marketing campaign. Regardless of how many more remakes Disney does, it would be best for them to keep costs in check.
- Dumbo (2019) release date: Mar 29, 2019