Apr 1, 2019

Tim Burton applies his magic to this re-imagined classic, but not enough.


Grade: B-

Director: Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland)

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger (The Ring)

Cast: Colin Farrell (The Beguiled), Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Rating: PG

Runtime: 1 hr 52 min

By: John DeSando

“You've made me a child again.” V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton)

Dumbo almost soars! And Tim Burton comes down to earth with a remake of a Disney classic that could have been a classic on its own. Gone are Burton’s excess along with Johnny Depp; welcome a sometimes  endearing tale of a flying elephant. The formulaic Disney plot arc is here from joy to despair to joy at last, from motherless kids and ruthless showmen to home again and a prosperous circus.

Dumbo will indeed make you a child again with its shabby but soulful circus that gives birth to the wondrous Dumbo. Max Medici (Danny DeVito) is the ringmaster who must keep the show afloat with a mix of ruthlessness and vulnerability. Not as nice is his new domineering merger partner, Vandevere, who exudes self-centeredness that knows not charity.

The comparison to the recent merger of Disney and Fox is spot on, and the Dreamland sequences cry out Disneyland. Some praise must go to corporate merger-master Disney for letting the satire into its own revisionist film. Needless to say, the formula for Disney fantasy is in tact here, giving another layer of irony for a film that a celebrates differences but preserves formula.

Those bad boys Vandevere and Medici are matched by the bevy of goodies, not least of which is returning veteran dad and widower, Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), whose lost arm is compensated for by his heart; and Collette Marchant (Eva Green), whose benevolence is instrumental in liberating the little elephant form cruel masters and Holt’s children from loneliness for their deceased mother.

In tune with the Disney demand for righteousness, the salvation of these suffering workers is not really the circus phenom but their own ability to overcome evil. That independence and courage are boilerplate Disney as well as the necessity of family unity and love.

“Hi, baby Dumbo, welcome to the circus. We're all family here, no matter how small.” Milly Farrier (Nico Parker)

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at