Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Movie Review: Dumbo (2019)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Second half soars and lifts the imagination as it does
Cons: First half is slow
The Bottom Line:
Dumbo flies again
Overcomes a slow first half
To soar by the end

“Is That a Monkey in Your Drawer?”  “Only for Emergencies.”

Disney’s recent trend of remaking all their old movies in “live action” has been hit or miss, so I’m watching the previews closely to see which ones I might want to see in theaters and which ones I can wait until they hit home video or TV.  I just couldn’t decide about Dumbo, but I was intrigued enough to decide to go out and see it opening night.  The results were mixed but mostly positive.

The story takes up back 100 years to 1919 and the Medici Brothers Circus, under the direction of Max Medici (Danny DeVito).  We join them midway through the season as Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) rejoins them after getting out of the army at the end of World War I.  Unfortunately, he is returning without one arm and to the reality that he has to raise his two children, Milly and Joe (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins), without the aid of his wife, who died from influenza over the winter.

The circus itself is struggling as well, and Holt’s horses have been sold to keep the rest afloat.  Until they can figure out his new act, he is placed in charge of the elephants, including Mrs. Jumbo, the latest addition to the family.  She is pregnant, and when the stork visits her, the circus is happy to welcome the baby into the family.  That is, until they see his ears.  What will happen next?

If you know the original movie, you’ll know what happens next – at least for the first half.  The first half of the movie follows the general plot of the original.  Since this film doesn’t include any talking animals, we get a different path to full discovery with Milly and Joe taking the role of encouraging Dumbo to show off his special skill after they discover it early on.  However, this part of the movie is pretty slow.  I heard a kid in the audience I was with say, “Is it almost over?”  And I was refraining for turning my phone back on to check the time myself.  Part of the problem is this is set up to the story that everyone really wants to tell.  And part of it is that there is so much sadness with these characters that it is hard to watch.

However, once the entire world knows about Dumbo’s special abilities, things really pick up.  That’s when we are introduced to Michael Keaton’s V. A. Vanervere and Eva Green’s Colette Marchant.  Their characters help drive the plot into some different directions.  Notice I didn’t say unexpected.  Even this part of the movie isn’t highly original, but it is definitely more entertaining, fun, and imaginative.

Even so, the second half has a couple of niggles.  The first is a decidedly anti-big business theme.  I may be reading more into it based on who the villain is, but I also find it ironic in the month that Disney’s purchase of 20th Century Fox finally went through.  The second is an animal rights theme.  This one bothered me more, not because I’m against it, but because it felt tacked on at the end and therefore more of a five second lecture than anything else.  Truly, neither of these are issues to dwell on.

The acting is fine for the most part.  I did find Nico Parker a little hard to watch in the beginning.  I get that Milly was supposed to be dealing with grief and disappointment and therefore withdrawn, but her acting felt off to me.  However, I warmed to her as the movie progressed.  The rest of the cast was fantastic.

And I have to give the film credit for the look.  I’m not just talking about the special effects, which are terrific.  I believed an elephant could fly as I watched.  I’m also talking about the ever so slightly steampunk look of the world, which is especially noticeable in the second half.  Honestly, that second half is where my imagination really started to soar, and I truly wanted to jump into and live in this world

I also appreciated the nods to the original.  There are plenty of them, and I’m not just talking about in the first half of the film.  As far as the songs go, we really only get a new version of “Baby Mine,” but the rest get worked into the film at various points without feeling gratuitous or forced.

In the end, I’m glad I went to see Dumbo.  I’m not quite sure it is four stars, but it certainly is better than three stars, so I’m rounding up.  I’m planning to buy the film when it comes out so I can watch it again.

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