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Dumbo First Reviews: Disney's Latest Live-Action Remake Looks Stunning but Fails to Take Full Flight

Critics say Tim Burton's reimagining of the animated classic is a visual treat with memorable performances, but it can't match the magic of the original.

by | March 26, 2019 | Comments

Disney’s live-action reimaginings of their animated classics have been hit or miss, and those involving Tim Burton as a director and/or producer have particularly been on the lower end of the Tomatometer. His latest, Dumbo, is no exception, even if critics are calling the remake his best movie in years. According to the first reviews, there are bits and pieces to like about the new version, including some of the visuals and performances and the digital wizardry behind the titular flying elephant, but otherwise this Dumbo lacks the heart and magic of the original.

Here’s what the critics are saying about Dumbo:


How does it compare to the original?

Dumbo does hit some of the familiar beats of the original film… but does so in ways that simply serve as reminders of how much better the animated film does it.
Josh Spiegel, Slashfilm

Burton and his collaborators took the beautiful and moving Dumbo and somehow managed to turn it into a throwaway kiddie adventure like Gus or Million Dollar Duck.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

This remake is still easier to take than the 1941 version.
Stephanie Zacharek, Time

Cartoon or live action, Dumbo remains a hero for the ages.
Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times


Where does it fit within Disney’s live-action remake trend?

I found Dumbo to be the most successful of Disney’s recent slew of live-action adaptations.
Anne Cohen, Refinery29

In the realm of Disney’s live-action remakes of or sequels to its various animated IP, Dumbo is squarely in the middle of the pack.
Scott Mendelson, Forbes

It’s almost certain to be the most creatively inspired of the “live-action remakes” the studio is releasing this year.
Dave Ehrlich, IndieWire

Dumbo has the look and atmosphere of a “sincere” blockbuster that’s trying too hard… to justify its existence as another live-action version of a fabled Disney cartoon.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety

Unlike [Burton’s] Alice, Dumbo often rises to the level of tolerable.
Josh Spiegel, Slashfilm


Walt Disney Studios

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

Where does it rank among Tim Burton’s recent work?

Burton paints a gorgeous tapestry that brings to mind his most creative work.
Vinnie Mancuso, Collider

One of the director’s better films of recent years — even as it reveals some of his more frustrating shortcomings.
Bilge Ebiri, Vulture

Dumbo is Tim Burton’s best movie in years. But that’s not saying much… At least it doesn’t have Johnny Depp in it.
Kristy Puchko, Pajiba

You could say that this is technically Tim Burton’s best film in at least a decade, which is more of a backhanded compliment than anything else.
Josh Spiegel, Slashfilm

To the limited extent that Dumbo works, it ultimately does so because Burton finds a way to make it his own without choking the life out of the source material.
Dave Ehrlich, IndieWire

It’s still nowhere near the level of his early masterpieces, but it’s at least a little closer.
Matt Singer, ScreenCrush


How is the extended adaptation of the story?

Here’s what’s bad: The story. The characters.
Bilge Ebiri, Vulture

The writer has been miscast. He brings the same light touch and airy whimsy he brought to three separate Transformers pictures.
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

The human characters in the original film are mostly non-entities… the new film hasn’t figured out a way to make most of them any more interesting.
Josh Spiegel, Slashfilm

[The main character] is as paper thin as the romantic subplot… which I won’t bother dedicating much time to because Dumbo certainly doesn’t.
Kristy Puchko, Pajiba

Apart from that FX elephant the movie doesn’t come up with a single character who hooks us emotionally.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety


Walt Disney Studios

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

And the CGI elephant himself?

Dumbo himself is a hell of a creation… The highest compliment I can pay to the film’s FX wizards is that I forgot I was watching an artificial creation for much of the movie.
Scott Mendelson, Forbes

The folks over at RISE Visual Effects Studios took what easily could’ve been an unnerving sight and turned it into a genuinely loveable CGI creation with an actual personality to boot.
Vinnie Mancuso, Collider

The visual team did a good job creating a cute baby elephant that makes audiences go “awwww.”
Christie Cronan, Raising Whasians


What about the rest of the visuals?

Rick Heinrich’s production design is where this movie really gets its wings.
Anne Cohen, Refinery29

Rick Heinrichs’ richly textured production design and Colleen Atwood’s beautiful period costumes are the stars.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

The spectacle never gets tedious or tiresome or confusing. I could watch the circus scenes of this film forever, and thankfully, there are plenty of them.
Bilge Ebiri, Vulture

So many of the film’s digital effects (and there are so, so many of them) have that glossy, shiny neither-here-nor-there quality that so often turns contemporary movies into visual mush. Not even the circus atmosphere provides any kind of flair.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap


Walt Disney Studios

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

How is Michael Keaton?

Delightfully scenery-chewing.
Kristy Puchko, Pajiba

Keaton in particular is dialed up to 11… what I can only describe as “business Beetlejuice.”
Karen Han, Polygon

The best villain that a Bioshock game never had.
David Ehrlich, IndieWire

I can’t even tell you what Michael Keaton is going for as V.A. Vandevere, but I do know I’m here for every campy second of it.
Vinnie Mancuso, Collider

Disappointingly thin; he’s a bad guy with a sandpaper voice but no layers.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety

Perhaps the greatest disappointment, as he looks totally bored.
Hannah Woodhead, Little White Lies


Are there another standout performances?

DeVito is perfect.
Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly

DeVito soars. Completing the trilogy of ring masters he started as The Penguin and continued in Big Fish, the actor is sublime as Max Medici.
David Ehrlich, IndieWire

Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins do much of the heavy lifting as Farrell’s children, offering surprisingly understated dramatic turns and never trying to steal scenes from the title character.
Scott Mendelson, Forbes

Parker’s performance hints at a promising future.
Anne Cohen, Refinery29

Alan Arkin has a hilarious extended cameo as a banker who barks his lines as if he’s lost his hearing aid.
Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times


Walt Disney Studios

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

Does the movie have any messages to convey?

Burton leans in hard on the animal rights angle here, and though cheesy, it works.
Anne Cohen, Refinery29

Blessedly, it has a surprising pro-animal rights agenda wrapped in the subtly rebellious tale of a band of outsiders burning down a corporate establishment.
Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction

Kudos to whoever gave a presentation to Disney brass on the importance of STEM education for girls.
Katie Rife, AV Club


Will it make you cry?

This reviewer expected to need a whole box of tissues to get through the film, but the eyes were dry from beginning to end.
Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction

While I’ve never made it through the original movie’s “Baby Mine” sequence… without sobbing, this version left me thoroughly dry-eyed.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

The new Dumbo holds the attention but too seldom tugs at the heartstrings.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter


But will the familhave a good time?

As a faithful update of a cherished classic, the new Dumbo will get the job done for restless kids on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly

Will it win over your family and a new generation of Dumbo believers? Unexpectedly, yes.
Christie Cronan, Raising Whasians


Dumbo opens everywhere on March 29.

#1

Dumbo (2019)
46%

#1
Adjusted Score: 65761%
Critics Consensus: Dumbo is held partly aloft by Tim Burton's visual flair, but a crowded canvas and overstretched story leave this live-action remake more workmanlike than wondrous.
Synopsis: Struggling circus owner Max Medici enlists a former star and his two children to care for Dumbo, a baby elephant... [More]
Directed By: Tim Burton

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