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"DUMBO"
(2019) (Colin Farrell, Eva Green) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: The arrival of a baby circus elephant with huge ears throws everyone for a loop, especially when it's revealed he can fly.
PLOT:
It's 1919 and the aftermath of both WWI and the flu epidemic has resulted in the Medici Bros. Circus being a shadow of its former self. Run by Max Medici (DANNY DeVITO), the various performers, circus animals, and their handlers have hit the road for their national tour, and former equestrian star Holt Farrier (COLIN FARRELL) joins them and is reunited with his young kids, Milly (NICO PARKER) and Joe (FINLEY HOBBINS).

With him being away in the war where he lost his left arm and his wife having died from the flu, Max sold his equestrian team. All of which means his new job is take handle the circus elephants including their latest acquisition, a pregnant one named Jumbo. But hopes that a baby pachyderm might draw some renewed interest in the circus seem dashed when the little one arrives with gargantuan ears that droop all of the way to the ground. Max wants the baby hidden from public view, and through a mishap, he ends being named Dumbo.

Despite the hostile and mocking reaction from others, Milly and Joe take to Dumbo and learn, by accident, that those enormous ears give him the ability to fly, albeit seemingly only when a floating feather is used as an enticement. When word gets out about his abilities, circus showman V.A. Vandevere (MICHAEL KEATON) shows up with his lead trapeze artist, Colette Marchant (EVA GREEN), and buys out Max's circus, mainly to turn Dumbo into the main attraction at his permanently located amusement park, Dreamland. From that point on, the siblings, their father, Colette and others start to see Vandevere's true colors all as pressure mounts for Dumbo to perform for the masses.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
There's a point more than midway through the live-action remake of "Dumbo" where a top-end showman, V.A. Vandevere, witnesses the titular pachyderm take flight and zip around the inside of a tent-covered big top. Astounded, he comments that it makes him feel like a kid again, and you might have the same reaction any times the "little" elephant is airborne.

After all, that's the magic of movies, entertaining kids with stories and characters that enchant them and, if done correctly, have the same effect on adults in returning them to some degree of a childhood state of awe and wonder.

Alas, while such flying elephant moments have that power and the ending packs some emotional punch, much of the rest of the film ends up feeling far too grounded. The majority isn't bad and certainly isn't awful, but it just lacks the magic throughout to make this offering truly fly.

It's a remake of the 1941 animated film of the same name -- which clocked in at a scant 64 minutes -- that surely enchanted kids -- and many an adult -- when it was first released and then in subsequent viewings over the following decades.

To be fully transparent, I don't think I've seen the original since I was a preteen, so five intervening decades have made my memories of that offering hazy and sketchy at best. Accordingly, any attempt at making comparisons between the two versions would be moot on my part so we'll just be focusing on how this remake stands on its own.

Director Tim Burton -- who previously brought another old Disney classic back to live-action life in 2010's "Alice In Wonderland" (and then followed that up with "Alice Through the Looking Glass" six years later) -- is behind the camera and this film has the look and feel of many of his flicks and features one of his usual character types, the outsider. That is, as filtered through the standard Mouse House storyline element of one or more kids missing one or both parents.

In this case, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) are two kids who've apparently grown up in the traveling circus show owned by Max Medici (Danny DeVito). It's the year 1919 and their mom has died from the worldwide flu epidemic, while dear old dad and former circus equestrian star Holt (Colin Farrell) has just returned from WWI sans his left arm.

There's a lot of dramatic and thematic potential in that setup, but Burton and screenwriter Ehren Kruger mainly just present that on an introductory and superficial level that's only sporadically and ever-so-briefly touched upon during the film's 112-minute or so runtime.

Instead, and not surprisingly so, the focus shifts to our baby elephant who's supposed to the means to a robust financial bump for the circus, but instead arrives in the world with huge, floppy ears that drag on the ground and surely will turn off paying customers. When it's revealed that the baby elephant can use them to offset gravity, however, they come en masse. As does the aforementioned Coney Island type operator (Michael Keaton) who sees gold in them thar ears and takes the entire troupe back to his Dreamland amusement park.

But with the little one realizing his recently sold mama is nearby, he doesn't perform as intended with Vandevere's pretty jewel-on-his-arm, trapeze artist Colette (Eva Green). Accordingly, and with that man's true colors now out there, he orders the big elephant killed, all of which turns the rest of the film into a rescue and release story.

Really young kids might be completely absorbed by what's present, but many an adult might have the same reaction as me. And that is one of an overall, blasť response. Sure, it's visually stimulating to one degree or another much of the time, but something just seems missing or off enough that you never truly feel as engaged as think you should.

It doesn't help that the characters are thinly sketched or that the story, once the flying elephant in the room has been addressed, isn't that remarkable and certainly not memorable. Perhaps not wanting to bum out the kids (and adults), the losses in the main family aren't given as much weight as they probably should have and thus end up feeling just as superficial as much of the rest of the offering (rather than magical and touching if more attention had been paid to having the elephant help that family heal).

Accordingly, when it should and could have soared to great heights, "Dumbo" figuratively and literally only occasionally takes flight and thus rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed March 25, 2019 / Posted March 29, 2019


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