New 'Dumbo' Left This Mom With Dry Eyes
Welcome back to the first "Mom Review" in a few years! My sidekick Noelle is now a teenager at 13 but she is still willing to share her thoughts on the movies, plays and other family-friendly events we experience to give our Berkshires.com readers a different take on the local cultural scene. First, I'll share my thoughts, and then Noelle will share hers.
When I first heard that Disney was making a live-action version of "Dumbo," I was pretty skeptical. After all, the main characters in this movie are animals, so unless Disney was going to venture into the territory of creepy "talking" real-life creatures, how were they going to pull this one off?
First the good news: Disney WAS able to create a story that didn't require creepy talking real-life animals, thank goodness. Instead, they used very cool special effects to create Dumbo and his mother, and the results of that were pretty spectacular. Dumbo, with his awkward-but-somehow-adorable ears and soulful eyes was as lifelike as possible - and he didn't have to say a word. Neither did his mother, though she had many fewer scenes, nor did the mouse, which appeared only briefly.
Now the bad news: The story was just terrible. Besides the elephant family, the film centers on a family of three: a grieving war hero dad and his two children - who didn't (or maybe couldn't?) breathe much life into the story. There was way too much going on with them: war hero dad returns with one arm to find a wife dead from the flu, no job and a pre-teen daughter he can't relate to because she wants to be scientist and not a circus performer. Had the screenwriters followed any ONE of those storylines, the film could have gone in a more interesting direction. The other actors were lackluster at best, with the possible exception of Danny DeVito, who was as entertaining as always. It pains me to say this, because I've loved Michael Keaton since he was Batman so many years ago, but he was uneven as well. I know it's a Tim Burton-directed piece, but Keaton's character's evil side seemed forced, particularly since it appeared Burton was poking fun at Disney himself and his Disney World. Wanting to kill Mrs. Jumbo just so Dumbo wasn't "distracted" from his flying shows didn't seem deliciously diabolical; it just seemed confusing and mean.
But the worst part for me? I just wasn't touched. To be honest, I can't watch the original "Dumbo" without crying when mama and her baby are separated. And - full disclosure - I cry at most other Disney movies, too. When Simba tries to wake up his dead father? When Rapunzel and her parents are reunited? In "Toy Story 3" when Andy leaves his toys with Bonnie? Total waterworks. I even sniffled before "Dumbo" during the trailer for "Toy Story 4" when it flashes back to that scene in "Toy Story 3." How sappy am I?
In this remake of "Dumbo," thought, it was dry eyes all around. All I could think about was why Mrs. Jumbo's trunk seemed way too long suddenly in an effort to make it wrap around Dumbo.
This "Dumbo" just isn't touching. Maybe it's because watching the exploitation of circus animals isn't heartwarming at all in 2019. Maybe that's not something we want to pass on to today's children - who, by the way, probably won't enjoy this movie very much anyway. The young girl during our showing who was running around during the movie certainly didn't. It's not a cartoon, it's not a musical (though kudos to Disney for working some of the original songs into this film, even in an instrumental fashion so that those of us who remembered the original music recognized it). It's just not FUN. There's a reason it's PG; kids under 8 or so probably will be bored or confused much of time, except when Dumbo is flying, which they will probably think is cool. And they might be scared at the end, which is pretty fiery. Older kids might start to question the whole circus animal morality issue - which Disney ignores in this remake all the way up until the end when Dumbo and his mother are set free in their native India to live out their lives with their wild brethren and the original circus becomes animal-free. (Sorry, spoiler alert.)
Disney has an ambitious slate of releases this year, with the live-action "Aladdin" up next, followed by "Toy Story 4" and then "Frozen 2" this fall. I hope I like those better than "Dumbo." I'm optimistic those will be better. I'll bring the Kleenex.
Noelle says: I didn't really like "Dumbo" either, but I think my mom was a little harsh in her review. I really liked the animation; it seemed pretty real. I agreed that it wasn't very emotional, but I don't cry at movies like my mom does. I just saw "Five Feet Apart" and my friends were all crying but I wasn't. (That was a better movie than "Dumbo," in case you were wondering.) I did like Danny DeVito because he was funny; I don't know him from any other movies but I've seen him in memes on Instagram. I thought the end was very fast-paced, where everything happened very quickly. I didn't think it was scary but I think little kids might be scared by all the fire.
Rebecca Dravis is community editor at iBerkshires.com.