"Dumbo" Review - (Non-Spoiler)
Like its heartwarming protagonist, "Dumbo" does indeed soar when the focus is on the titular big-eared elephant (thanks to incredible VFX and whimsical direction from Tim Burton), but it stumbles a tad in its attempt to beef up the film with additional subplots and new supporting characters, creating a charming, if uneven experience overall.
Dumbo himself is undoubtedly the star of the show (fitting, given the fact that the title of the film is taken after his namesake), and he does not disappoint in the slightest. The CGI is quite stunning, never feeling creepy or cloying in the slightest, while expertly conveying both his cuteness and his realism in equal measure. His reactions to the events around him - his wonder, his pain, his joy - all register on an emotional level, and his relationship with the mother is the absolute heart and soul of the film. Most of the rest of the cast is quite good or at least serviceable around him - Danny DeVito being the charismatic scene-stealer with Colin Farrell’s restrained performance close behind - but they shine the most when interacting with Dumbo.
Tim Burton’s whimsy isn’t as “in your face” as it has been in past features, but his touch is certainly still present. His knack for creating immersive and visually dazzling yet morally suspect environments is on display yet again, and this is most apparent at Michael Keaton’s Vandemere’s Dreamland, which portrays an image of magic yet rings hollow after further discovery. His adoration for stories of eccentric outsiders is a natural fit for the tale of Dumbo, and although some human characters feel shortchanged, his intense love for Dumbo himself is quite apparent. As a long-standing fan of the director, I was quite happy to relish in another one of his cinematic worlds.
The film works great at the start as an intimate piece of a down on its luck circus (headed by DeVito’s Max Medici) attempting to revitalize itself with Dumbo’s help, but the pacing does waver a bit as we transition to Keaton’s Vandemere’s Dreamland due to the surplus of subplots and side characters. Keaton himself seemingly switches character interpretations from scene to scene, never quite finding his groove and appearing as if he was acting in another movie; many characters are outlandish here, but Keaton feels like a separate entity entirely. Eva Green is as charming as ever in a bit role as a French trapeze artist at Dreamland, even if the role is underwritten. The aforementioned Farrell does a lot of emotional heavy lifting as the father of Nico Parker’s Millie and Finely Hobbins’s Joe, even as the children can be quite hit or miss. Hobbins is more consistent than Parker, who tends to come across as quite unemotive in a few scenes. Nevertheless, the family bond was still present (mostly thanks to Farrell), and it had a fulfilling conclusion. Burton assembles a signature gallery of unique supporting characters with Medici’s circus troupe, but he sadly does little with them until the film’s admittedly engaging finale (which helps to make up for an oddly paced middle section). Ultimately, the film ends in a pleasing manner, even if the road to get there falters slightly.
"Dumbo" additionally acts as some oddly timely commentary about corporations that monopolize smaller businesses and exploit them for one or two notable aspects while leaving previous staff members in the dust (*cough cough*), which makes the film register on another level entirely. In another note, regular Burton team member Danny Elfman creates an enchanting score that’ll leave quite an impact after leaving the theater as well.
"Dumbo", the film may not be as special as the titular elephant at its center, and it may miss a few opportunities to fully invest audiences in its new plot or characters, but when it soars, it truly flies high, and it’s sweet-natured and charming regardless. I'm going to give "Dumbo" a 5 out of 10.