Dumbo – Review

Worth seeing: for the magical moments when Dumbo takes flight, that are hidden under too much plot in a darker imagining of this Disney classic
Director:Tim Burton
Featuring:Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Michael Keaton, Alan Arkin, Deobia Oparei, Finley Hobbins, Joseph Gatt, Nico Parker
Length:112 minutes
Released:29th March 2019


The flagging Medici Brothers Circus has just bought a new elephant to try to increase ticket sales as it begins a new tour of the country. The elephant soon gives birth – what could be better than a baby elephant?

But this elephant has giant, floppy ears; no-one is going to want to pay to see a freak like Dumbo, as he becomes known. He’s immediately picked on and mocked and when his mother steps in to protect him, she’s sent away.

Two children in the circus team, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) take it upon themselves to look after Dumbo and discover that feathers make him sneeze and sneezing makes him flap his wings so hard that he can fly.

This new trick makes him the star of the show, and when word reaches New York City, a big entertainment entrepreneur, Vandevere (Michael Keaton) buys the whole circus and moves it to his theme park.

But while Milly, Joe and their dad Holt (Colin Farrell) want to reunite Dumbo with his mother, Vandevere has other ideas.


If you take a Disney cartoon classic and give it to Tim Burton, don’t expect a shot-for-shot remake. This is altogether darker – both thematically and chromatically – than its animated predecessor.

Several generations have come and gone since the 1941 original first graced our screens and while this latest film is set in 1919, it’s being viewed a century later, when we have very different attitudes towards circus animals, which give Burton a peculiar challenge of making a period film that wouldn’t offend modern sensibilities.

There are a few too many characters whose motives change during the course of the story, which becomes complex enough to take attention away from the all-too-rare magical moments most viewers will have gone to enjoy.

And those moments are magical – when Dumbo first takes flight during a particularly critical scene, it’s almost as uplifting as the moment ET and his bike-riding saviours first take to the air. But there’s too much plot and not enough magic.

Many of the intricacies of the plot will go over the heads of younger viewers, who could also find some of the darker elements a little hard to take.

The effects are – as you’d imagine – seamless; you’d never know that the actors were performing alongside people in green leotards, before Dumbo was added in post-production. But it’s a sign of modern film that such successes are taken for granted and it’s the emotional connection and the narrative journey that are all that matter.

And while the narrative journey is a little contrived, particularly as it breaks away from the original, Burton does better with the emotional connection – you’ll empathise with poor Dumbo, as he’s picked on and bullied, you’ll be rooting for the children trying to help him, you’ll be ambivalent towards Danny DeVito’s pragmatic circus owner and you’ll find yourself scowling at Michael Keaton’s pantomime villain – and a hairstyle that wouldn’t be out of place in a Coen-brothers film.

One of the interesting points to note for parents is the way Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito have – essentially – switched roles since they last teamed up with Tim Burton in Batman Returns, more than a quarter of a century ago.