Movie review: 'Dumbo'

Brad Keefe

From the business perspective of risk-averse Hollywood, I can't argue with what Disney is doing. However, I can argue with the artistic perspective.

Along with churning out chapters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Disney's other big ongoing plan is to create live-action remakes of some of its most beloved animated films.

So far, it's been a mixed bag. Although Jon Favreau's “The Jungle Book” was a surprise delight, most of the other films have been visually dazzling but lacking any real magic.

Disney is doing a fine job of pairing the right directors with the right projects, like Kenneth Branagh's with “Cinderella.” And Tim Burton felt like the right person for the sad misfit story of “Dumbo.”

The first thing you need to know about Burton's “Dumbo”: It's certainly got some sad and touching moments, but it's not as heartbreaking as the 1941 original. I say this because multiple friends declined my plus-one screening invite out of fear of ugly-crying.

It also substitutes humans for the original's anthropomorphic animal characters, which at least lets this “Dumbo” sidestep those racially stereotypical crows, right?

In fact, much of the plot pivots, taking only general inspiration from the original.

Max Medici (Danny DeVito) is the owner of a struggling travelling circus. He rehires former star Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), who has returned from World War I (minus an arm).

Holt's children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), have lived with the circus while he was away. The family comes together in caring for the circus' most recent acquisition, a newborn elephant with oversized ears.

When it's discovered that this elephant can fly, the circus makes a comeback that attracts the attention of entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton).

Burton's “Dumbo” spends a lot of time exploring this greedy businessman's flashy theme park, which also serves as a playground for Burton's visual sense, which blends dark and colorful.

If there's one thing 2019's “Dumbo” can stand on, it's the visuals. It's vibrant and dazzling, with a CGI Dumbo that is photorealistic and evokes feelings.

And the cast is also a fun mix, particularly Burton reuniting his Batman and the Penguin in Keaton and DeVito.

But this “Dumbo” feels like a theme-park ride more than a childhood classic.

Ultimately, it's not fair to expect these movies to match the magic of beloved animated classics. But that also makes them feel like Disney is selling out its history. We've got “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” and many more on deck. It's smart business, I guess.

Opens Thursday

2 stars out of 5